GENEVA, Switzerland, April 13, 2016 – The top United Nations humanitarian official in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has voiced concern over the fate of more than 35,000 people who, in the past three weeks, have fled the area of Mpati, in the Masisi Territory of North Kivu province, following clashes between the Congolese army and armed groups.
Since 27 March five sites for internally displaced persons (IDP) have been emptied, forcing thousands to seek safety in surrounding villages. Although some who fled the fighting have started to return, the situation remains volatile and of great concern.
“The past days have been difficult for those IDPs forced to leave the sites, prevented by the clashing forces from returning to those sites, and unable to get the humanitarian assistance that they need. I am deeply concerned by the situation,” the Humanitarian Coordinator in DR Congo, Dr Mamadou Diallo, said today.
Access to the area has been difficult, notably because of the clashes. However, since 4 April, a number of humanitarian organizations have reached the area to evaluate the needs of the affected people. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), mandated to coordinate the humanitarian response, is leading a mission to the area of Mpati.
Rein Paulsen, Head of OCHA in DRC, reiterates the importance of unhindered access to areas of need. “Access is paramount to our work, it is vital for humanitarian partners to reach the people in need,” Mr. Paulsen said.
Violence in North Kivu, affecting both civilians and aid organizations, has been rising since late 2014 resulting in renewed displacement. The renewed displacement is taking place amid a shrinking of humanitarian funding while needs remain great. During the current military operations in Mpati area, there have been threats of forced site closures, a concerning issue for humanitarian actors which has been the subject of high-level engagement, including by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a recent mission to DRC. The threat of forced site closures is particularly concerning as the humanitarian community and authorities in North Kivu have agreed on a strategy to draw down the number of sites in North Kivu.
The Humanitarian Coordinator has been advocating to ensure that any site closure respects internationally agreed standards regarding IDPs. In a high-level forum held on 05 April in Kinshasa, the Humanitarian Coordinator stressed again that while DRC has the right to close IDP sites, the role of the humanitarian community is to ensure that such closures “are in line with DRC’s obligations under international humanitarian law”. He added that the humanitarian community is ready to work closely with the Congolese authorities in identifying and implementing durable solutions to the problem of displacement in Eastern DRC.
“Such solutions must be anchored in the Kampala Convention,” the Humanitarian Coordinator said today in reference to the African Union Convention on the Protection of Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa to which DRC is party.
North Kivu has about 781,000 IDPs, of whom 30 per cent are in one of the 53 displacement sites. There are seven IDP sites in the Mpati area hosting more than 45,000 people.