UNHCR Claims Thousands Fleeing Central Congo Amid Worsening Conflict

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has claimed that 11,000 refugees have recently fled from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Angola amid attacks from militia groups. Up to 9,000 people have left the country this month alone. The UNHCR has started to ship tents, kitchen equipment, mosquito nets, blankets, and other essential items to Angola to help manage the growing number of refugees. Most are fleeing from the Kasai region, which has recently turned violent since mid-2016 after Kamwina Nsapu and his militia group waged a rebellion against government security forces.

The spokesperson for the UNHCR, Babar Baloch, spoke about the growing crisis during a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. He stated that militia groups are “targeting police, military officials, and civilians who they believe are supporting or representing the Government,” and that refugees are “arriving in desperate conditions, without access to clean water, food or shelter.” Out of desperation, some parents in Kasai have sent their children alone over the border to prevent them being recruited by the militia.

Whilst there are over 19,000 UN peacekeepers deployed in the DRC, through the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), more international support and aid must be provided to central regions to end the conflict. As well, closer monitoring of the situation is required to prevent further abuses of human rights. Efforts initiated by the UNHCR to coordinate the refugee response with the government and local authorities will hopefully ensure that relevant resources are provided to those fleeing the conflict. Establishment of proper hosting sites by the DRC will alleviate the current pressure on border locations deemed unsuitable and overcrowded. The UNHCR’s plan to send an additional emergency team to Dundo will also provide relief for the situation.

Instability in the Kasai-Central province, which has been ongoing since August of last year, has led to violent acts that have been perpetrated by both the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the Kamwina Nsapu militia group. Only a few weeks ago, the remains of two UN researchers and their interpreter, who were investigating allegations of human rights abuses, were found in the province. More recently, on Wednesday 19th April, the UN announced the discovery of a further 17 mass graves, highlighting the continuing atrocities being committed during the conflict. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called on the DRC’s government to take meaningful steps to ensure a thorough and transparent investigation of alleged human rights violations.

Major concerns have been expressed about the potentially devastating impact on children in Kasai. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), around 2,000 children are being used by militia in the conflict, a further 4,000 have been separated from their families, and many that are currently arriving in Angola are ill and malnourished. The well-being of children has further been jeopardized by the closure of 350 schools within the region. Angola continues to maintain its open borders to the flow of refugee arrivals, whilst the UNHCR worries about the April wet seasons rains potential impact on the living conditions and health of vulnerable refugees. With that said, further efforts, both from the government and internationally, are necessary to return peace and stability for those caught up in the conflict.