A UN Intervention Brigade, consisting of South African, Tanzanian and Malawian troops, is now active in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), tasked with fighting and disarming rebel groups. The head of the UN mission in the DR Congo (known as MONUSCO) this week reported that shells had hit Goma as fighting once again erupted. Speaking to Reuters, he confirmed that the MONUSCO force had been given orders “to react and to take necessary action to protect civilians”.
The ongoing conflict in the eastern provinces is causing a new influx of refugees to Goma, which is already hosting 70,000 displaced people. With its swollen population of around one million, Goma is struggling to meet the needs of all the refugees. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, a spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said “Goma is full”, adding “there’s no room left”.
About 30 new temporary sites in Goma, including churches and schools, are being used as temporary shelters for the growing number of refugees. Displaced families are also living along roads into Goma and on any spare land. While extra refugee sites have been established in other towns of North Kivu, such as Masisi, Rutshuru and Walikale, many people continue to head for Goma, which is being protected by the UN brigade after being overrun last year. Due to the sheer number of refugees now living in and around Goma, the IOM have acknowledged that the help which can currently be provided to everyone is only of “minimum assistance”.
No services or schooling for children
One 19 year-old expectant mother spoke to IRIN about the conditions in which she’s currently living, having fled her home in January and losing contact with her other family. Aziza explained that her shelter is a crudely constructed hut just two metres long and it’s hard to sleep inside because it’s situated on rock. Receiving food supplies usually just once a month and with such bad shelter, the young woman says simply “I get sick”.
Another woman who has sought refuge in Goma four times and arrived in the city last November with two of her neighbour’s young children also speaks about the poor shelter and lack of any services. “Children don’t have schooling [and] there are no toys...nothing for the children to do,” she explains to an IRIN reporter. Tragically, a number of children from inner regions of the DR Congo, who don’t know how to swim, have drowned in Lake Kivu, where many youngsters go to amuse themselves.
A number of aid agencies are present in the area, though many aid workers left at the end of last year when the fighting escalated. Health and other support services are therefore massively overstretched and humanitarian organisations are hoping the UN force will bring badly needed protection to the region. One aid worker summed up what's required to bring more assistance and development to this part of the DR Congo – “peace is the key”.