LONDON (AlertNet) - Rebel forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) vowed on Wednesday to "liberate" all of the vast central African country as they began seizing towns near the Rwandan border.
The M23 rebels, widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, captured the eastern city of Goma on Tuesday forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee; United Nations peacekeepers simply looked on, after Congolese troops had quit the town.
The U.N. Security Council has strongly condemned the rebels, as the U.N. defended its peacekeepers who gave up the battle for the city of Goma.
Here is a round-up of aid agencies activities in the area:
The International Medical Corps (IMC), which has been working in DRC since 1999, said in a statement that it had evacuated its staff from Goma.
World Vision said it has temporarily evacuated its staff. The aid agency said it has suspended all programme activities in the area and that it is considering relocating its humanitarian operations to nearby Gisenye in Rwanda.
World Vision advocacy manager in DRC Dominic Keyzer: “We know from the recent practices of the groups involved in this latest fighting that unaccompanied children in this part of DRC are in immediate and real danger of forcible recruitment into armed groups.
“Children have nowhere to turn, we can’t get to them, and we are hearing reports of groups arming people around Goma. Local partners have seen armed people passing guns and ammunition to civilians this morning – including children aged 16-18. A former child soldier we have worked with in the past told us today: ‘I have seen some of my friends receiving weapons and going to fight — they are being told to go and fight the rebels and take their guns’."
Jesuit Refugee Services Great Lakes advocacy and communications officer Danilo Giannese: "We have evacuated nearly all our staff from Goma. Given the security situation, all our activities, including assistance programmes in the camps, have been suspended. However, our teams in nearby Masisi and Mweso are still in situ as the roads out of the country are too dangerous.
“We're particularly concerned about our local teams who are currently separated from their families in Goma. Fortunately, they've been in contact with their families and everyone is safe.
“The consequences of the ongoing crisis in Goma are especially acute for individuals living in particularly vulnerable circumstances, such as children, older people, those with disabilities and health problems. They are often unable to flee the fighting, find safe haven or support themselves."
Oxfam humanitarian coordinator in DRC Tariq Riebl: “Recent fighting risks pushing a serious humanitarian crisis over the edge. We know that so far 50,000 have been displaced and fear that up to 120,000 people could have fled in the last few days. Entire camps have been abandoned, and there are very few safe places for civilians to go. It could be that many will converge on Goma itself, a city with very few resources and not much space.
“People are now camped on the side of roads or have taken refuge in schools and worried about what will happen next. There is massive strain on food and water supplies.
“With almost 2.5 million people now displaced across eastern Congo, this catastrophe needs the humanitarian and diplomatic response to be urgently stepped up."
Merlin programme coordinator Sophie Goudet: “Because people have fled, our first job is to find out where they have gone to. We will be searching schools, churches, football fields – any large sites and buildings. The health of people in DRC is extremely poor. The vaccination rates are low, infant mortality is high and malaria is endemic.
“Against the backdrop of DRC’s already fragile health system, this displacement means we are looking at a double crisis. That is why as of today we have activated our emergency response mechanism.
“Support staff for finance, admin and training, have been moved to Rwanda for the time being. Our senior management team and healthcare staff, however, will remain on the frontline because Merlin is a force for health and reaching people in desperate need is our business.”
Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) DRC representative Bernard Balibuno: “The humanitarian situation is critical. Thousands of people are fleeing their homes and camps. More than 15,000 people from the Kibumba camp north of Goma have been forced to leave because of the fighting, and are fleeing south towards the towns of Mugunga and Sake with many of Goma’s residents.
“For many previously displaced by fighting, this will be the fourth or fifth time they have had to flee in the last two years.”
Caritas deputy director in Goma Father Arsene Masumbuko: “The people of Congo have suffered repeatedly over many years. They are living in misery and fear, they are helpless, and they feel abandoned. Do not think we are not aware of the problems of the country: the problem of civil protection, social problems, corruption; but we do not want another war and war will not resolve these problems.
“All parties, all people, must now decide – do we continue with the logic of war or the logic of peace. The Church stands by its constant argument that the solution is dialogue, dialogue between all parties - with the M23 and the international community at the table.”