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Goma - Displaced people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are rioting in the face of dire humanitarian conditions and an inadequate international response. A Refugees International (RI) team now in the DRC found that Congolese living in so-called "spontaneous settlements" have been overlooked by humanitarian actors, with some sites not receiving aid for months at a time. RI urges the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its partners to address these needs immediately and prevent further unrest.
"These sites are teetering on the edge of collapse," said RI Advocate Caelin Briggs. "Unless these spontaneous settlements get attention soon, the situation will deteriorate and further violence could occur. Aid agencies should act now to keep this from happening. They must meet their obligation to assist all Congolese displaced by violence."
Unlike official camps run by the UNHCR, spontaneous settlements in the eastern DRC are not served by aid coordinators, making the distribution of food and other assistance infrequent and uneven. These settlements house more than 100,000 Congolese civilians - including many displaced by the recent M23 incursion in North Kivu - and the lack of international attention there has caused tensions to rise.
In one of largest settlements, Bulengo, near the provincial capital Goma, residents told RI that they had not received any food in two months. Bulengo's settlement president was overthrown following accusations of aid siphoning, and RI's team witnessed a mob attacking a car carrying residents who allegedly stole food. Riots have also occurred in other settlements this week, with residents blocking roads to the sites.
Without reliable aid deliveries, women in these spontaneous settlements are forced to leave the relative safety of the site to collect basic daily necessities, including water, food, and firewood. This has left them vulnerable to attacks from armed groups in the surrounding forest. Sexual violence is a daily reality for displaced women in North Kivu - both in the form of opportunistic attacks by armed groups, as well as survival sex for the exchange of goods.
"Women should not have to risk rape to feed themselves and their families," said RI Senior Advocate Marcy Hersh. "The UNHCR and its partners must prioritize programming to protect this vulnerable population."
Refugees International is a non-profit organization that advocates for life-saving protection for displaced and stateless people worldwide and accepts no government or UN funding. For more information, visit www.refugeesinternational.org.