Fears for IDP safety following camp attack

Fears for the safety of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have escalated after the weekend shooting of a civilian in Kibati camp, North Kivu province, in the east.

"The alarming security incident at the sprawling Kibati I camp gave added urgency to plans to move up to 30,000 of the 67,000 [IDPs] in two camps to a new site," said David Thengwe, spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) in Goma, North Kivu’s capital.

The new site, Mugunga III, is being built in a safer area some 15km away, Thengwe added.

On 21 November, uniformed armed men shot a 20-year-old woman during an abduction attempt. Several dwellings were looted in Kibati, a settlement 2km from the frontline between government soldiers and rebel troops, and 14km north of Goma.

Thengwe said the shooting followed a relative lull in the fighting that flared in August, putting to flight some 250,000 people, many of whom had been displaced several times over the last couple of years.

"We are afraid that such incidents may continue to happen because we have armed men going in and out of the camps," he added.

Christophe Illemasenne, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the proximity of armed groups was of huge concern to aid workers.

Despite the fighting between rebels led by Laurent Nkunda and the army, aid agencies have continued to try to reach affected civilians. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 1.3 million displaced people and host families need food assistance in eastern DRC.

Women and girls most vulnerable

Following an assessment in Kibati, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said women and girls had suffered increasing levels of sexual violence.

Photo: Les Neuhaus/IRIN
MONUC personnel on patrol in the streets of Goma

"Women and girls are forced to leave the camp in search of additional firewood, food and income for their families and these daily chores expose them to sexual violence," IRC's Sarah Spencer said.

Kibati camp, according to the IRC, is extremely congested and shelter for most is only a plastic tarpaulin. At the same time, many displaced women and children were separated from family and neighbours and living next to strangers in the camp.

"The health and psychological needs of rape survivors in Congo will continue long after the fighting stops," Spencer added. "Addressing their needs must become a priority for the international community."

The fighting has also torn families apart. CARE International said many displaced families were now headed by single mothers.

"As many as 20 percent of the displaced families in Goma may be headed by single mothers," said John LaPointe, CARE’s emergency coordinator in Goma.

"Women have been separated from their husbands, or their husbands have been killed in the fighting or recruited into the army or rebel forces."

The UN estimates that several thousand children are still involved in the fighting. This week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over an estimated 3,500 children serving with the armed forces and the rebels.

The Security Council recently authorised another 3,000 blue helmets for its peacekeeping mission, MONUC, to buttress the 17,000 uniformed personnel serving in DRC.