International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Tens of thousands flee surging Congo violence as fighting disrupts aid

Tens of thousands of people in and around Goma, the capital city of North Kivu Province, have been forced to flee surging violence between rebels and the Congolese Army.

More than 50,000 previously uprooted people had to vacate a camp just north of Goma when fighting resumed last week. Many more local residents were driven from their homes. Those displaced have taken refuge with host families or in makeshift shelters, or are headed toward a large camp to the west of the city that already provides refuge to more than 35,000 desperate civilians. 

Most left with just the clothes on their backs. With local services and humanitarian assistance disrupted by the fighting, food, clean water, health care and adequate sanitation facilities are very scarce. Water-borne diseases like cholera, along with severe malnutrition, are a serous threat.

“We have had one meal in the last four days. My children will not make it like this,” said Josephine, a mother of three an IRC emergency team met yesterday morning in a makeshift camp near Goma Airport. 

Next to her, another woman was deploring the loss of two of her youngest children.

“We left in such a hurry. They were by my side and then they disappeared. I fear I will never see them again,” she said. 

Many families were separated in the chaos of the past few days. Don Bosco, an Italian charity operating on the outskirts of Goma, counted nearly 30 children who had lost their parents among the displaced people who arrived seeking help over the weekend. 

Ronald-Paul Veilleux, head of the IRC’s programs in the province, cautioned that the situation could turn into a full-scale humanitarian disaster. 

“Our utmost concern is for the civilians whose lives are at risk and who can do very little to protect themselves,” he said.  “It is imperative that aid agencies be provided safe passage so that we can assist those most in need.” 

The IRC has been operating in war-torn eastern Congo since 1996. In North Kivu, our work focuses on health, women’s protection and empowerment, and strengthening communities’ capacity for recovery.

Crisis in Pictures

A displaced woman and her children with a bowl beans

This woman managed to get some beans for her family of seven. They have not eaten for more than two days.

Photo: SInziana/Demian/IRC

registering a displaced woman, reviewing her ID

Identifying displaced people and registering them to receive assistance is challenging and takes a long time. Many fled to the camp without any form of ID.

Photo: Sinziana/Demian/IRC


A woman waits with jerry cans to collect water

It takes up to eight hours of standing in line in order to fill a canister with drinking water at the camp.

Photo: Sinziana Demian/IRC


A Congolese wooden bike and baby goat

This cikudu (the traditional wooden bike of North Kivu) and goat are precious assets that one displaced family brought with them to the camp.

Photo: Sinziana Demian/IRC

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