Rebellion's end in Democratic Republic of Congo comes too late for one family

Telling the Human Story, 6 November 2013

© UNHCR/L.Beck
Congolese refugee Baraka recovers in Kisoro Hospital, Uganda, after being hit by shrapnel when the border town of Bunagana came under attack earlier this week.

KISORO, Uganda, November 6 (UNHCR) This week, Uwimana* lost her parents and two siblings, victims of artillery fire in one of the last actions of the 18-month conflict between the Congolese armed forces and the rebel M23 movement.

But the end of the fighting in Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province will come as small comfort to the 17-year-old, who watched her younger brother die in a Ugandan hospital from excessive bleeding after being hit by shrapnel in Monday's attack. He died hours after both their parents and Uwimana's younger sister were killed instantly when a shell hit their village, Cyengerero.

"There's nothing for me in Congo, I will not go back," the bitter 17-year-old pledged as she stared out of a dirty window in Kisoro Hospital, which receives medical support from UNHCR's health care partner, Medical Teams International.

Uwimana's 15-year-old brother, Bruno, was one of 18 Congolese refugees admitted to the hospital in south-west Uganda with serious injuries on Monday, at the height of the fighting as the Congolese army made its final push against the M23 in hills near the vital border crossing of Bunagana. By the time the M23 announced the end of their insurgency on Tuesday, a baby with spinal injuries had also died in the hospital.

The teenager is still in shock; she rubs a table in the duty nurse's station as she speaks about her ordeal, unable to look people in the eye when talking about the explosion that killed her parents and six-year-old sister.

Uwimana only survived the blast because she was inside the house hurriedly packing belongings when the artillery round fell as her siblings played in the garden. She saw the carnage as her family members were cut down. "When the bombs fell I wasn't frightened I felt strong, but when I saw my mother was dead I became scared," she recalled, adding that things happened so quickly.

"We left my parents, not even covered, and picked up the survivors and ran," she said, referring to two other brothers, one of whom carried their baby sister. Uwimana made a sling from a shawl and used it to carry Bruno, who was in a lot of pain.

"My brother asked, 'Are you going to leave me?' I didn't say anything, I just picked him up." The teenager had thigh injuries and his left leg was broken, so she had to carry him with care. At the Ugandan border, soldiers put Bruno's leg in a splint and he was brought to the hospital at around 8 p.m. in a Medical Teams International ambulance. Four hours later, he died while being given a second blood transfusion.

Staff at the government hospital in Kisoro said the sudden influx of injured civilians put a strain on the resources of the facility. "When I arrived there was blood everywhere. The [operating] theatre is small and some people were lying outside. Those being given first aid were being carried to the wards," said Afia Mutuza, a nurse. MTI has provided the hospital with intravenous therapy fluids and lines, but there is a shortage of drugs and staff to cope.

Most of the injured brought to Kisoro on Monday are recovering from their wounds, like Baraka Ndagijlmana. He was wounded by shrapnel from a shell that landed in Bunagana, on the Democratic Republic of the Congo side of the border town. He arrived at the hospital on Monday morning on the back of a motorbike taxi.

"I felt something heavy fall on me and all the people around me were down," recounted Baraka, who has had to flee fighting many times in the past. "We are forever running, it is part of our daily life there are so many times I've lost count," he said, while adding: "I stay because it's my home."

Many are now hoping that relative peace will return to North Kivu so that people can start returning to their homes, even though the province remains volatile and there are still more than 30 armed groups in the lawless region. But those who have lost too much, like Uwimana, believe it offers little.

She now hopes to be able to stay with her uncle, who lives in Uganda and to find her three missing siblings, whom she had sent ahead on Monday to safety. She has now become the head of the family.

* Names changed for protection reasons.

By Lucy Beck in Kisoro, Uganda




UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

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