Geneva — The U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, is condemning escalating violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that has killed hundreds of civilians and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in search of safety.
More than 130 armed groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are creating havoc and terrorizing the population with their brutal, frequent attacks. Whole communities have become uprooted. Millions of displaced people have been consigned to a life of destitution and dependence on international aid.
The latest deadly attack occurred in Ituri province on January 19 at the Plaine Savo site for internally displaced people. U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Eujin Byun says armed men stormed the site and killed two adults and five children.
"Many shelters were looted and burned down to the ground. As many as 17,000 people fled to the greater security of the nearby town of Bule. They are now staying in schools, churches, and poorly covered outdoor markets without sufficient food and water," she said.
The UNHCR says more than 200 civilians have been killed in a series of attacks in Ituri in the last six weeks, causing tens of thousands to flee for safety.
It says deadly and destructive attacks by armed men also are occurring in neighboring North Kivu province. Since March, it says, more than half-a-million people have been forced to flee for their lives, increasing the number of displaced people in the province to more than two million.
Byun says the many displaced are unable to provide for themselves and depend upon aid for survival from humanitarian agencies.
"Amid the volatility, the UNHCR and partners continue to deliver life-saving assistance to displaced populations. The violence and instability in the region also mean that the UNHCR and partners are delivering life-saving shelter, site management and protection services, despite risks to the safety of humanitarian personnel," she said.
Besides a lack of security and a lack of access to volatile areas, Byun says the UNHCR lacks the money to support the many and growing needs of the displaced. She notes only 46% of the agency's appeal last year was covered. She says the UNHCR hopes this year's call for $233 million will emit a more generous response.
More than 5.6 million people are internally displaced in the DRC, making it the largest displacement crisis on the African continent.