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DRC: where refugee camps are no longer safe refuge

Read how Tearfund is responding to attacks in refugee camps in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 10 May 2024

White tents and corrugated iron shelters in a refugee camp at Mugunga, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The camp at Mugunga, outside Goma. Credit: Nehemie Babikana/Tearfund

Uncomfortable, crowded, often unsanitary and lacking in most of the basic necessities for life – food, clean water, toilet facilities, access to work, schools for children – the only thing the camps for displaced people just outside Goma have to offer is safety. For hundreds of thousands of people seeking shelter from the violent conflict in other parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), these camps are a desperate bid at survival.

But they are not safe.

On Friday 3 May, at least 12 people were killed in attacks on two of the camps. Over the past months, similar reports of violence have made it into the news. Often, the victims are children. Last week was no exception.

Explosions in Mugunga and Lac Vert, near Goma

These most recent explosions targeted camps in Lac Vert and Mugunga, near the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. And, for Tearfund, they hit close to home. These are places where we are working. The people affected are people who we have been helping. Only a week before, Poppy Anguandia, the Country Director for Tearfund’s work in the DRC, had stood in Mugunga camp, right where this most recent violence took place.

‘My heart is breaking,’ Poppy says. ‘Camps like this should be safe. The people who come here have already been through so much. Just last week I was standing in those very camps, hearing from people who fled their homes with nothing, absolutely nothing. People like Esther, who told me she had to run for her life, not even knowing where her children were or if they were safe. As a mother, I can’t even imagine what that must be like! And like Esperance, who told us that women in her village were being raped on the journey to the camps, and as they go out to find food for their families.’

The church at the centre of Mugunga

The camp at Mugunga stands on the land of a local church. With resources and space stretched beyond limits in the official NGO-supported camps a few miles away, this church, led by Pastor Boniface, has opened its doors, land and hearts to around 7,400 families with nowhere else to go. Every available inch of the church’s ground is now covered with makeshift shelters. The chairs from the sanctuary have been turned into firewood to help keep people warm and dry.

Tearfund’s response in DRC camps

Tearfund and our local partners are working in Mugunga and other camps in the region, providing clean water, toilets and other life-saving support, but there is not nearly enough to go round. There’s one toilet for every 1,500 people, and one shower per 3,000, and more people arrive every day. And with the rains comes the added risk of spreading potentially fatal diseases, like cholera.

What’s happening in the DRC?

Right now in the DRC, more than 25.4 million people – a quarter of the population – require humanitarian assistance. The most urgent needs are in the eastern provinces where ongoing violence and insecurity have taken a toll.

More than 9 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were forced to leave their homes by the end of 2023. This included millions who fled violence within DRC itself, 2.6 million people who had escaped to neighbouring countries like Sudan, but were forced to flee again, and more than half a million refugees from other countries. This displacement crisis is one of the largest in the world, second only to Sudan.

Cholera and other epidemics in the DRC

The Democratic Republic of Congo endured a horrific humanitarian crisis in 2023. A surge in cholera caused immense suffering, with over 50,000 suspected cases and 470 deaths – the worst outbreak since 2017. Measles cases tragically doubled, exceeding 320,000 reported cases and claiming over 6,000 lives.

Adding to the misery, climate shocks brought heavy rains and floods that displaced 2.1 million people and killed 300 between mid-November 2023 and January 2024. Congolese women and children bore the brunt of the crisis. Their extremely precarious living conditions exposed them to the worst forms of violence and exploitation.

Pray for the DRC

    • Pray for peace in the country so that people will be able to live their lives without fear of violence, and will be able to return to their homes in safety.
    • Pray for comfort for families who have had to flee their homes, and particularly for those who have lost loved ones. Ask God for resources to meet the needs of all those who have had to leave their belongings behind and now rely on aid provision to survive.
    • Pray for particular protection for women and girls, as rape is used as a weapon by those seeking to inflict violence, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) increases in contexts where people are forcibly displaced from their homes.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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