Mass displacements threaten children in DR Congo, UNICEF warns

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The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the lives of thousands of children in overcrowded, unsanitary camps for Internally Displaced Persons in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are seriously at risk.

In a statement on Monday, UNICEF said that young people continued to flee fighting between Congolese armed forces and the resurgent non-state armed group M23. New IDPs arrive daily, escalating the extent of the humanitarian crisis.

“IDPs camps are fraught with danger,” UNICEF Emergency Manager Dounia Dekhili. “In addition to the cholera threat, children and young people are at risk of experiencing gender-based violence in the extremely cramped camps.”

Since October 20, intensified fighting has displaced thousands from Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province, mainly to Kanyaruchinya and Kibati, north of Goma and to Lubero territory.

The conflict is triggering massive population movement to the north and south along the Rutshuru-Goma axis.

The newly displaced are joining the ranks of about 200,000 IDPs forced to flee their homes since late March when the latest surge in violence began.

Meanwhile, as the security situation in eastern DRC deteriorates, humanitarian access is becoming increasingly more restricted.

Over the last 10 days, about 100,000 displaced people have fled to overcrowded makeshift camps in Goma and Lubero, where flimsy shelters are no protection from frequent rainstorms.

Moreover, many lack tarpaulins and must sleep in the open and clean water shortages threaten a cholera epidemic.

“There are nearly 190 children who have been separated from their families or caregivers during the chaos of recent displacements, and so far, we have reunited about 80 with their families in Nyiragongo territory alone,” stated the UNICEF official. “The likelihood is that more unaccompanied children…will almost certainly materialize as the crisis unfolds…It is no exaggeration to say that the lives of thousands of people who live in these camps are in grave danger.” 

Despite the volatile and unpredictable environment, UNICEF and partners have continued to provide child protection, health and nutrition services to the most vulnerable.

The agency said in the longer term, efforts are underway to reopen schools.

To avert severe malnutrition, emergency health and nutrition care is being provided to IDPs and the host community, and so far, 200 households have received UNICEF assistance to prevent cholera.

“The priorities now are to provide access to safe water and sanitation, to work with sister agencies and partners to deliver food and to improve the quality of shelters,” UNICEF Goma Field Office chief Jean Metenier said. “We call on all parties to the conflict to refrain from violence, protect children and their parents and pursue peace. The suffering here has to end immediately.”

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