Eastern DRC: Violence Forces Children to Flee as Pope Visits
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Feb. 01, 2022) — More than 122,000 people are reported to have fled their homes over the course of one day after another escalation in conflict in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), leaving thousands of children vulnerable to abuse, Save the Children said.
Armed clashes between the M23 armed group and the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in areas around Kitshanga, about 37 miles west of Goma, between Feb. 24 to Feb. 25 led to mass displacement, with the numbers likely to increase as the conflict continues to rage. Over half of the displaced people fleeing Kitshanga are estimated to be children. Save the Children said it was deeply concerned as these children are incredibly vulnerable to abuse.
The latest escalation in violence came as the Pope arrived in DRC to deliver a message of peace and reconciliation to a country rocked by conflict. He is in Kinshasa, meeting with and hearing from victims of violence in the country.
While the intensification of conflict is causing massive displacement, in other areas of eastern DRC, people are being killed and uprooted from their homes in an alarming wave of attacks against civilians. According to the UN, more than 200 civilians have been killed by armed groups in Ituri in the last six weeks, 2,000 houses have been destroyed, and 80 schools closed or destroyed. Healthcare facilities have been looted, making it increasingly difficult for people to access health care.
The violent attacks on civilians often include children. For example, on the evening of Jan. 18 and the following morning, armed groups attacked a settlement of displaced people living in a village in Ituri, killing five children and two adults. On Jan. 08, an armed group attacked four villages in Ituri, killing 25 people, including five children. The group also looted a local health center. In Ituri province alone, these attacks have forced an estimated 52,000 people to flee their homes.
Amavi Akpamagbo, Country Director of Save the Children in DRC, said:
“The violent clashes and attacks on civilians, including children, must stop. We are witnessing a considerable escalation in the conflict between the M23 armed group and the FARDC, which continues to cause massive population displacement. We are also seeing vicious attacks from other armed groups, who are killing and maiming civilians, including children, in an extremely violent fashion.”
“These attacks on civilians need to be investigated, and the perpetrators need to be held accountable for the violence and killing of children and other civilians.”
There are an estimated 5.5 million displaced people living in DRC, according to the UN Refugee Agency, in a country with a population of about 95 million. Some are left sleeping outside while others are in camps and settlements, often in over-crowded conditions and lacking in basic sanitation, leading to outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera.
Last month Save the Children reported that cholera cases are rapidly increasing in Nyirangongo, the region hosting the largest number of people displaced by the recent escalation of conflict, with children accounting for nearly four in every five cases.
Amavi Akpamagbo adds:
“The humanitarian situation is dire in DRC. The majority of displaced people live in precarious conditions. They live in schools and stadiums, and others are hosted by families where they have neither drinking water nor food. Displaced children are incredibly vulnerable. Unaccompanied or abandoned children, without family members, face an increased risk of abuse.”
Save the Children has worked in the DRC since 1994 to meet humanitarian needs linked to the massive displacement of populations due to armed conflict in eastern provinces, especially in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri and Kasai-Oriental and Lomami in the center of the country. Save the Children is developing activities in the health and nutrition, education, and protection sectors so that no community, including the most vulnerable children, is left behind.
Nearly 65,000 children being displaced is based on 53% of the population of DRC being children, according to data from the UN World Population Prospects 2022.
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