Eastern Congo residents flee for safety—again | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Eastern Congo residents flee for safety—again

Renewed fighting sparks growing concern

Residents in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo fleeing from M23 attacks Getty Images/Photo by Alexis Huguet/AFP

Eastern Congo residents flee for safety—again

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rusayo 2 camp for displaced people has swollen by about 20,000 new residents in the past month, according to Eric Batonon, the country director at the Norwegian Refugee Council. “There were already quite a number of people in the camp,” he said.

Rusayo 2 sits on the outskirts of Goma, a city on the Congo-Rwanda border in the country’s mineral-rich eastern region. Hundreds of thousands of people with sparse possessions in tow have arrived in Goma as violence has worsened in the province. Sandrine, a mother of eight, fled the town of Sake with her children after hearing a bomb had landed on a nearby military camp.

“I was only able to carry one pot with my children’s clothes in it and four dollars, which I quickly spent to buy food,” she told the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The fighting in North Kivu province between Congolese forces and the March 23 Movement (M23) armed group has displaced at least 150,000 people, including about 78,000 children, according to the aid group Save the Children. Host communities in Goma have also taken in some of the displaced.

M23 is one of the most active among more than 100 rebel groups operating in eastern Congo. The region increasingly became a conflict hub after the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The persistent tribal tensions, lack of government presence, and natural resources in the region have created a complex setting for armed groups to start and thrive.

The M23 rebels cut Goma off from food and aid supplies earlier this month, sparking an outcry over another brewing humanitarian crisis in a region with a history of armed violence. Analysts have said M23 rebels are trying to force Congo to return to negotiations, a move Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi’s government has ruled out. Meanwhile, a number of other African countries are getting involved, taking sides for and against the Congolese government.

Batonon said warfare has intensified. On Feb. 7, a rocket landed near a university in Goma, although no one was hurt.

“Before, it was fighting without these heavy weapons, but this has changed,” he said.

M23 resurfaced late in 2021 after claiming it ended its rebellion in 2013. It has since targeted communities in the territory. M23 began a new offensive last December, seizing towns and taking over key military posts in the region. Previous peace deals sought to integrate the rebels into the army in exchange for protecting the country’s Tutsi minority. But both sides accused each other of breaking the deals.

The United Nations has warned that the fighting has pulled forces from other hotspots and created security vacuums, allowing other rebel groups to commit “summary executions, abductions, forced displacement, and conflict-related sexual violence.”

The conflict has also roped in foreign security players. South Africa will deploy nearly 3,000 troops to Congo as part of a joint Southern African Development Community force that will include troops from Malawi and Tanzania. A similar East African force began withdrawing from Congo in December after Tshisekedi accused it of failing to end the M23 rebellion. A UN peacekeeping force also began its withdrawal on Wednesday after similar accusations from Congo.

“Fundamentally, [Congo] does not want to enter into negotiations on the basis of the current status quo on the ground,” said Richard Moncrieff, the African Great Lakes director with the International Crisis Group. “So they’re looking for allies to push [M23] back.”

Meanwhile, tensions have worsened with neighboring Rwanda. Congo and the UN have accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, but it has denied the allegations.

Rwanda insists that it is defending its territory and instead accused Congo of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The armed group was founded by former senior generals who led the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group.

“The fighting in North Kivu is taking on this regional dimension where countries are pulled into one camp or another,” Moncrieff said in a podcast produced by the International Crisis Group. “That would then undermine regional diplomatic efforts, which are being led principally by Angola.”

In a February statement, the U.S. State Department condemned Rwanda’s support for M23 and called on the country to “withdraw all Rwanda Defense Force personnel from the DRC and remove its surface-to-air missile systems.” It also asked Congo to cease cooperation with the FDLR.

Back in Goma, Batonon said refugee arrivals have eased since early February. The UN is coordinating support from the Norwegian Refugee Council and other aid groups to assess and respond to the needs of displaced people, including whether to increase water access at Rusayo 2.

“They need to spare the civilian population,” Batonon said, as he called for a diplomatic solution to the region’s armed violence. “There’s a lot of suffering going on.”

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

Sign up to receive World Tour, WORLD’s free weekly email newsletter on international news.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...