UNHCR alarmed at reports of atrocities against displaced Congolese

News Stories, 3 February 2012

© UNHCR/S.Schulman
A woman cleans clothes in a hillside camp for the internally displaced in North Kivu's Masisi District.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, February 3 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said Friday it was alarmed by recent reports that Congolese civilians have been tortured and killed by armed groups entering camps for the internally displaced in the volatile province of North Kivu. The agency called for more security in and around the camps.

CĂ©line Schmitt, UNHCR spokeswoman in Kinshasa, said armed groups had been entering camps for the internally displaced in the eastern province since the last quarter of 2011, "violating their civilian character." The main affected camps are in Nyanzale, Mweso and Birambizo in the Masisi territory, about 90 kilometres north-west of Goma, the capital of North Kivu.

Displaced Congolese are constantly threatened by various groups and militiamen, who accuse them of collaborating with one armed party or another. On December 13 last year, seven internally displaced people (IDP) were beaten to death because they had refused to take part in forced labour for the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda, a predominantly ethnic Hutu rebel group. UNHCR has also received reports of IDPs being tortured.

The continuing violence is also hindering humanitarian access to the camps and preventing aid workers from protecting and assisting the displaced people. Only eight IDP camps out of 31 are accessible to humanitarian workers without military escort.

"UNHCR calls on all parties to respect the civilian character of IDP sites in North Kivu. We are appealing to provincial authorities to increase security in and around the camps," Adrian Edwards, head of UNHCR's public information section, told journalists in Geneva. Currently, there are only 40 police officers deployed to secure six of the camps in North Kivu.

The refugee agency is also liaising with the UN peacekeepers in the eastern Congo to increase the presence of security forces in areas most in need of protection and to ensure the safety of civilians living in the IDP sites.

Nearly 80,000 displaced Congolese are living in the 31 IDP camps in North Kivu. Many of them have no hope of going home in the near future due to continued insecurity and renewed fighting between armed groups and the military in their home areas. Returns could not be organized during the whole of last year.

North Kivu is home to more than 600,000 IDPs, more than a third of the 1.7 million internally displaced civilians countrywide.

By Celine Schmitt