Democratic Republic of Congo

Leaving Millions Behind: The Harmful Consequences of Donor Fatigue in the DRC

Leaving Millions Behind: The Harmful Consequences of Donor Fatigue in the DRC

For decades, armed conflicts have ravaged the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), resulting in massive displacement and critical humanitarian needs. Over 13.1 million Congolese require humanitarian assistance, and with limited resources, humanitarians in the DRC are forced to make tough trade-offs as new conflicts emerge amid protracted ones—with aid delivery slowing down and increasingly diverted with each new outbreak. Insufficient funding threatens to unravel decades of investment and push the DRC deeper into chaos.

The World Is Failing Internally Displaced People. Here’s One Solution.

The World Is Failing Internally Displaced People. Here’s One Solution.

More than one in 10 internally displaced people are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where millions of IDPs are falling between the cracks of a humanitarian system in urgent need of reform. An important first step is to establish the position of special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for IDPs. 

DRC Humanitarian Conference: Urgent Action Needed for Affected Congolese Civilians

DRC Humanitarian Conference: Urgent Action Needed for Affected Congolese Civilians

On Friday, April 13, 2018, international donors gathered in Geneva for a Humanitarian Conference on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The conference was a crucial opportunity to focus global attention on the estimated 13.1 million Congolese citizens who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and protection. In this statement, Refugees International urged urgent action to establish humanitarian assistance for the affected Congolese civilians.

IRIN: For victims of the Ituri conflict’s sexual violence, aid is scarce

Around 8pm one January night, the bullets started flying through the village of Blukwa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri Province. It was just one incident in a wave of violence that has flared up in the region in recent months, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee.

As with conflicts elsewhere in Congo, rape and other forms of sexual violence feature prominently in the Ituri attacks, in which hundreds of people have been killed.

But for many women and girls who have fled to Uganda, care for their physical and psychological wounds is hard to come by – even when they are willing to seek it out, overlooking the stigma often attached to victims of sexual violence.

Support includes identifying survivors; providing access to psychosocial, medical, and legal services; training health workers in clinical management of rape; and supplying post-rape kits to health facilities.

As Dismas Nkunda, the executive director of Atrocities Watch Africa, noted, Uganda is known for its “robust” refugee regime, one that now accommodates around 1.4 million people who have fled neighbouring countries.

“Providing appropriate support for survivors of rape is mandatory for any refugee protection regime anywhere in the world, so there should be no excuse whatsoever for failure to support these victims,” he said.

Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, senior advocate for women and girls at Refugees International, said the reasons for the unmet needs are clear. “It is unsurprising that there is a limited number of services for rape survivors arriving from Ituri into Uganda,” she said. “The humanitarian response in Uganda is woefully underfunded, and limited resources are now being diverted to the cholera response,” she said.

"When I returned back home in the morning I thought I would find my husband and son… They were no more. They had been killed the same night I was terribly raped.”


Rape: One survivor’s story

Speaking recently from Kyangwali, a sprawling Ugandan settlement for refugees, one  former resident of Blukwa recalled the January night she fled. The woman, who did not want to use her name, said she and her husband heard shooting and he went to investigate. “We should run to save our lives,” he told her as he returned to the house. “He grabbed our son and ran with him,” she recalled. “I tried to follow, but I lost touch. It was dark.

“I couldn’t call them, so I decided to go my separate way to hide. While I was in the bush, I heard and saw two people coming towards my direction. They had guns; I knew I was dead.

“I tried to plead with them to spare me. They couldn’t listen. They undressed and raped me. One covered my mouth while the other raped me. After he finished, his colleague came and did the same. They raped me without any mercy. They threatened to kill me if I ever shouted.

“After raping me, they left. I remained in the bush with a lot of pain. When I returned back home in the morning I thought I would find my husband and son… They were no more. They had been killed the same night I was terribly raped.”

Exhausted and hungry, she said she managed the two-day walk to the shores of Lake Albert and boarded a boat to Uganda, where some 50,000 people from Ituri have sought refuge this year.

According to an official at a Ugandan reception centre cited by the aid agency CARElast month, nine out of every 10 women arriving  arriving from Congo – most of whom had travelled from North Kivu Province, with some coming from adjacent Ituri had been raped, sometimes more than once, and sometimes by gangs – both inside Congo and as they fled to Uganda.

“All these women who make it here were victims of rape and other forms of gender based violence,” said the unnamed official.

Addressing the gap in aid for victims of sexual violence, Vigaud-Walsh said: “In part, Uganda and its humanitarian partners simply cannot keep up with the unrelenting number of refugees that continue to stream in from the DRC and South Sudan, not to mention Burundians that have fled persecution into Uganda. The OPM (Office of the Prime Minister) scandal, with regards to refugee registration and exploitation, has not been helpful either – it has shaken the will and trust of international donors.”

“Nonetheless, international donors must recognise that joint [UN refugee agency] – OPM efforts are underway to redress these failures,” she added. “The reduction in humanitarian dollars to Uganda will only serve to punish refugees. More financing is needed, in particular to allow for services for rape survivors to be prioritised for women and girls arriving from Ituri, DRC, as [for] those who continue to arrive from South Sudan.”
 

The stigma of survival

Alain Sibenaler, the Uganda country representative of the UN Population Fund, which works in partnership with CARE in assisting survivors of sexual violence in Kyangwali, said: “It is not easy estimating the magnitude of the problem because the majority of the cases go unreported, given the shame associated with rape.”

The suffering of survivors extends beyond the crime itself, noted CARE Country Director Delphine Pinault. “Despite the prevalence of rape and other forms of sexual violence, at the community level stigma surrounding being a survivor still persists, including being ridiculed, rejected, and isolated as a result of the shame,” she said.

CARE is setting up centres in Kyangwali to provide counselling and group activities to survivors of gender-based violence.

“Through a set of activities that brings women together in a rather relaxed fashion, they will be supported to tell their stories and process the past,” Pinault said.
 

Under-resourced response

She added that there were too few professional counsellors and specialists for traumatised children to allow survivors to speak in their own language.

As previously reported by IRIN, a cholera outbreak among new arrivals in Uganda has reduced the funding and resources needed to respond to cases of gender-based violence.

“I am alone and traumatised. How can I live without my husband and son? It could have been better if I was killed with them.”

And as a 17-year-old from the Ituri village of Lewi explained, individual needs are great.

“I am traumatised,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “I am physically, emotionally, and psychologically affected. I can’t forget the terrible experience. Why did they have to rape me like that? It was so painful and terrifying.”

Primary healthcare facilities in the 17 villages that make up Kyangwali are very few in number and poorly supplied. The nearest referral hospital is 80 kilometres away. At the national level, Uganda languishes near the bottom of global healthcare league tables.

These shortcomings are all too evident for the survivor from Blukwa, who lost her husband and son. She says she is now incontinent, suffers pains in her abdomen, and that a whitish liquid is secreted from her genital area.

“I was referred to the health facility for checkups and treatment,” she said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get proper medical treatment. I was given some drugs that didn’t help.”

“I am alone and traumatised. How can I live without my husband and son? It could have been better if I was killed with them,” she said.

*This story was amended on 27 April to clarify that the Ugandan official at a reception centre was referring to Congolese women who had arrived from other parts of Congo, for the most part North Kivu Province, and not only Ituri, when he said that nine out of ten of them had been raped during their journeys.

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D.R. Congo: Alarming Needs in Kasai Must Be Addressed

D.R. Congo: Alarming Needs in Kasai Must Be Addressed

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

Ambassador Nikki Haley’s Trip to Africa: Background and Recommendations

Ambassador Nikki Haley’s Trip to Africa: Background and Recommendations

Refugees International welcomes Ambassador Nikki Haley’s visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and Ethiopia this week and next, as well as her commitment to U.S. support for refugee assistance and protection in Africa. By visiting these countries, all of which are facing urgent humanitarian challenges, Ambassador Haley is playing an important and constructive role on these issues.  

Refugees International Condemns the Massacre in Kamanyola

Refugees International Condemns the Massacre in Kamanyola

Refugees International condemns the September 15, 2017 massacre in the Kamanyola transit site in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in which at least 39 Burundians were killed. Among the victims were 15 women, with another 100 people wounded. RI also regrets the loss of a Congolese soldier who was also killed.

Burundians find little refuge in DRC

Burundians find little refuge in DRC

My colleague Michael Boyce and I spent the past week meeting with Burundian refugees in South Kivu. There are around 16,000 Burundians living at the Lusenda refugee site, as well as another 5,000 or more residing with host communities in villages to the north and south of Uvira. Though the numbers might appear small for a refugee crisis, the context is complex and volatile and requires a robust and well-resourced response.

As Burundi Sneezes, Will the Congo Catch Cold?

As Burundi Sneezes, Will the Congo Catch Cold?

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

Central Africa's Perilous Polls

Central Africa's Perilous Polls

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.

Congolese Women: What Happened to the Promise to Protect?

Congolese Women: What Happened to the Promise to Protect?

It is impossible to talk about the Democratic Republic of the Congo without talking about sexual violence. The widespread acknowledgement of gross levels of conflict-related sexual violence in the DRC spurred the international community to act in an unprecedented manner to protect women from these atrocities.

"The Triangle of Death:" Responding to Congo's Hidden Crisis

"The Triangle of Death:" Responding to Congo's Hidden Crisis

Between 2011 and 2014, the number of people displaced in the DRC's Katanga province jumped from 55,000 to 500,000 – more than 900 percent – as more than 100 villages have been burnt to the ground. Civilians face threats from local rebel movements, tribal militias, and abusive elements of the Congolese army. In this video, RI staffer Michael Boyce provides an update on RI's advocacy in the DRC to ensure that the displaced get the aid and protection they need.

Congolese Dying to Feed Their Families as Food Cuts Bite

Congolese Dying to Feed Their Families as Food Cuts Bite

Hunger is a feeling that will not be denied. In times of famine or displacement, people inevitably make sacrifices to feed themselves and their loved ones. They sell their belongings; they do hard labor for little pay; they forego leisure, education, and even healthcare. They do so because if they can eat, then at least they will be alive. But today, in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, many displaced people are so hungry that they are risking their very lives – and fates worse than death – for a few cups of corn or beans. But instead of extending a helping hand, donor governments and humanitarian agencies have largely turned away.

DR Congo: North Kivu's Long, Rocky Road to Stability

DR Congo: North Kivu's Long, Rocky Road to Stability

The deployment of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade and the expulsion of the M23 rebel group have led many to herald a new era of peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province. Yet much of the province remains unsafe, many humanitarian needs are not being met, and stability over the long-term is far from guaranteed.

DR Congo: Katanga in Crisis

DR Congo: Katanga in Crisis

Katanga, the richest province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is experiencing a humanitarian and security crisis that is worsening by the day. Since 2011, the number of internally displaced persons in the province has jumped from 55,000 to 500,000 – a more than 900 percent increase. The situation is further complicated by domestic politics, with President Joseph Kabila and many of his closest advisors originating from this province. Rumors of government complicity in the Katanga crisis permeate ongoing debates of how best to respond.

Life in the DRC's "Triangle of Death"

Life in the DRC's "Triangle of Death"

Katanga may be the richest province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but it is has quickly become one of the most troubled. For more than two years, two complex conflicts have been raging in the northern region of the province, known as the “Triangle of Death”: one involving the Mai Mai Bakata Katanga, self-declared secessionist rebels; and another pitting Pygmy villagers against their Bantu neighbors. Together, these conflicts have forced roughly 500,000 people to flee their homes. Today, the humanitarian response remains weak and the threats to civilians are growing. An RI team recently visited the territory of Manono, at the northeastern edge of the Triangle, to document the situation there.