11,000 People Flee From Conflict In The Democratic Republic Of The Congo

11,000 people fled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) this week in response to an increase in armed conflict in the country’s eastern area. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that the majority of those fleeing the country were women and children and that around 8,000 people arrived in Bunagana town in Uganda, and another 3,000 at the border at Kibaya, also in Uganda. The fighting was said to be taking place in the North Kivu province of DRC. The DRC army has said the attacks were led by the March 23 Movement (M23), a rebel group that has had little activity since 2013. M23 denies being responsible for the attacks.

The UNHCR is working with the government of Uganda, as well as with other partners such as the World Food Programme (WFP), to respond to the refugee influx in Uganda. Uganda has been keeping its borders closed to asylum-seekers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the government has issued a humanitarian exception for refugees from DRC. Refugees are being provided with water, food, shelter, and blankets. The UNHCR has expressed concern that there will not be sufficient resources to support the large influx of refugees. Uganda provides asylum to more refugees than any other African country globally and accepts the fourth-highest number of refugees. The UNHCR has only received 45% of the funding planned for Uganda this year, contributing to the shortage of resources to respond to this crisis.

The quick response to this crisis by the UNHCR, the government of Uganda, and other organizations is commendable, as is the humanitarian exception made by the government of Uganda to allow the asylum-seekers into the country despite concerns around COVID-19. Despite the tremendous efforts made, there is still a need for more resources and funding to increase the capacity to continue assisting refugees.

These attacks in DRC are part of an increase in violent conflicts in the eastern regions of DRC. In the week before these attacks, there were attacks by a new armed group in the South Kivu province of DRC. The South Kivu province has seen continuous conflict over the past 25 years. However, the most recent attacks were on the provincial capital Bukavu, which has not been attacked recently. The recent attacks, both in South Kivu and North Kivu, reflect the emergence of new rebel groups and attacks in areas that previously had been considered relatively safe. An article from DW Akademie has said that President Felix Tshisekedi of DRC “has so far failed to live up to his promise to improve security in the Kivu provinces.” They argue that the government and United Nations peacekeeping forces have been unsuccessful in restoring peace and security.

The situation in DRC raises concerns about possible future attacks and an increase in citizens fleeing the country. It is discouraging to see a re-emergence of conflict in areas that had seen relatively low rates of conflict in the past decade. The conflict is also concerning as it will likely lead to continued asylum-seekers attempting to enter Uganda. Given the shortage of resources in Uganda to respond to more refugees, there is a need for the global community to support the UNHCR in Uganda to prepare for outcomes of future conflict. There is also the need to find new ways to address the conflict and instability in DRC to restore a higher level of peace and security for DRC citizens.