A key rebel group has recently taken control of the major city of Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province. This has caused many of the city’s one million residents to leave. In addition, 60,000 displaced people who had sought refuge at a camp near the city have also fled.
In the panic caused by outbreaks of fighting and the movement of soldiers, many families have become separated. The United Nations Child Agency UNICEF reported feeding and giving medical care to around 500 unaccompanied children earlier in the week in Goma. The organisation is particularly concerned for these children, who can easily fall into the hands of soldiers on the look-out for young recruits. Girls who are on their own also face a high risk of assault. According to one charity working in the region, most rape victims are girls aged between eight and 17, with one in 10 rapes occurring among children less than 10 years old. Girls can also be recruited into rebel units, to act as ‘wives’ or to fight.
A spokesperson for UNICEF has said the organisation is “particularly concerned about the psychological trauma faced by children”. In addition, UNICEF is worried about a possible rise in cholera cases.
Facilities in refugee camps could quickly become overstretched. Many displaced people are fleeing to a refugee camp 15km south of Goma, while others are heading for camps in the neighbouring South Kivu Province. There, workers with the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) report “thousands of new arrivals”, with families desperate to be registered. A spokesperson for MSF said “conditions in many camp locations are precarious, with a lack of food distribution”.
Another smaller charity working to help refugees in the region admitted that it had had to pull its workers out of Goma to ensure their safety. This meant leaving many vulnerable families. The charity was most concerned about individuals unable to find a safe haven “such as children, older people [and] those with disabilities and health problems”. Many of these people will be forced to stay in Goma and will no doubt be hoping the security situation there improves, otherwise it could be some time before new assistance is provided.
SOS Children in DR Congo
SOS Children have three Children’s Villages in DR Congo, in Bukavu, Kinshasa and Uvira. Currently, all our Villages are safe. However, in light of the rebels’ statement that they intend to capture the city, SOS Children's Village Bukavu are taking precautionary measures for the SOS families. The Village has been affected by violence in the past, and staff are concerned that the SOS Children’s Village in Bukavu might be occupied due to its strategic position for military forces. Read more.