Despite the alarming numbers of people in need, as well as the grave atrocities being carried out, the Kasai region has received very little international attention and humanitarian funding. More than 30,000 people have fled from the Kasai region into Angola, seeking protection and support, and another 1.4 million people are internally displaced. The UN estimates that roughly one million people are food insecure, including 400,000 children who are facing malnutrition. The needs are staggering
In March 2015, the first Burundian refugees began arriving in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), fleeing persecution and fearing an all-out war at home. Since then, just over 20,000 have come – a relatively small number, compared with today’s other refugee crises. But donors and the United Nations have struggled to meet the needs, leaving many refugees feeling frustrated and abandoned.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the largest and most populous countries in Africa; so almost inevitably, any problem in the DRC is a big problem. In previous years, Refugees International has traveled to the DRC to report on internal displacement and gender-based violence – tragedies that afflict millions of Congolese civilians. But during our visit to the country this month, my colleague Mark Yarnell and I will focus on a problem that seems – at first glance – far more limited: the arrival of just over 20,000 refugees from neighboring Burundi. At a time of desperate humanitarian need and severe political turmoil elsewhere in the DRC, why focus on such a “small” problem? The answer is that it only takes one match to start a five-alarm fire
Muslim and Christian, men and women, young and old, urban and rural. My colleague Mark Yarnell and I have spent the last two weeks meeting with internally displaced people (IDPs) across the Central African Republic and with those living across the border as refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’ve visited those living in both formal camps and in informal sites, including churches, mosques, urban centers, and with host communities. Speaking with dozens of IDPs and refugees, we heard unconscionable stories of suffering and horrific accounts of violence. Many felt hopeless about their futures after living in terrible conditions for years. But others were more optimistic, and told us of their hopes to return home and rebuild their lives.
The political struggle underway in Burundi has thrust that tiny Central African nation into the global spotlight. Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is seeking a third term despite being limited to two by Burundi’s constitution, and by the terms of a peace deal signed in 2000. Nkurunziza’s supporters maintain that his first term did not count because he was appointed by parliament rather than elected. His political opponents disagree.
One day on the shores of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Micheline went to jail. The arrest probably did not come as a surprise to her. Working as a sex worker, run-ins with the police may have been a common occurrence for Micheline. But when she reached the prison on that particular day, things took an ugly turn.
With so many humanitarian crises around the world, priority humanitarian and peacekeeping accounts need increased support from Congress now more than ever. This includes the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) and the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) humanitarian accounts, along with the core peacekeeping accounts including Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and Contributions for International Peacekeeping (CIPA).
When I was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last October, every meeting that I held with Congolese government officials sounded surprisingly similar. They were all engaged in a battle to change the long-held image of the country as “the rape capital of the world.” Government officials explained to me that now that the threat of the M23 rebel group was behind them, the country is at relative peace and women can start to experience the dividends of that peace. Conflict-related sexual violence is no longer a problem in the DRC, or so they claimed. Not only is that statement incorrect, but engaging in this type of PR campaign is the last thing that the DRC needs right now.
This month, one of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s longest-running conflicts may finally reach an inflection point. After months of political posturing, it appears that the international community will now launch a military offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The Congolese armed forces (FARDC) will be expected to lead the way, supported by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).