Despite the capture of its leader Sheikh Jamil Mukulu, Ugandan rebel group, the Allied Democratic Front (ADF), and other renegade groups like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Mai Mai have forced large numbers of people to flee the ‘cycle of misery’ in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), three years after a major rebel offensive was defeated by United Nations and Government forces in North Kivu.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the belligerent groups are again targeting the region, ‘rich in minerals but lacking in law and order’, for violence and putting thousands of civilians on the run.
“In the latest major forced mass movement, more than 21,000 people had fled from Miriki village and surrounding areas in North Kivu’s Lubero Territory on 7 January after the killing of at least 14 people in a night raid by suspected Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR),” Leo Dobbs, spokesperson for the UNHCR told journalists in Geneva.
Since November, at least 15,000 people have sought shelter in sites for the displaced run by UNHCR or the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Tens of thousands more are estimated to be living with local families while others have returned to their homes.
“UNHCR is calling on the authorities to ensure security in the areas of return and to facilitate humanitarian access,” said Mr. Dobbs, also underscoring the importance for the authorities to address growing tensions in eastern DRC and scale up support to the newly-displaced.
While the battle between the FDLR and Mai Mai groups has forced thousands to flee home, the ADF, meanwhile, continues to wage a campaign of terror and sporadic attacks and ambushes against the local population and Congolese armed forces in the north of the province.
The UN refugee agency is now providing support by running 31 displacement sites, providing shelter materials, coordinating protection and advocating for their rights.
Mr. Dobbs cited the continuing violence in the DRC as ‘very much a neglected story’, and noted that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) earlier this month estimated that 7.5 million people in DRC, or nine per cent of the population, are in need of food and other humanitarian aid after decades of crises.