MSF, DRC, Violence, Refugees
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The displacement crisis in DRC’s Ituri Province

Over 100,000 people are currently displaced from their homes in Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of Congo result of violence that erupted in the area of Djugu.

The current violence started in December 2017, and after a lull, in January it flared up again in February of this year.

Those affected made their way north towards Mahagi or south towards Bunia, whereas others headed for Lake Albert and the relative safety of Uganda.

This is the first time I’ve fled DRC”, explains 53-year-old Imani who lived through the war in Ituri in the 2000s. “It’s different this time.

In the 2000s our homes were torched too, but we were able to go back to our villages. Now people are being hunted down and killed. The attackers chase us with dogs into the forest.”

We met Sifa, who is in her forties, the day after she arrived in Uganda.  She had a similar story to tell. She had already been internally displaced in Ituri 15 years ago.  “We were first displaced to a village called Kafé, near the lake. But the attacks kept getting closer.

MSF, Demographic Republic of Congo
This 11-year-old girl is recovering in hospital in Bunia. She lost her mother, her three siblings and her left hand during an attack on her village. Photo by: John Wessels

The attackers were determined to kill everyone and there was nobody to protect us. I decided to come here with my kids who are 12 and 15 to be safe. My husband stayed behind in Congo so he could try and keep working.”

In transit in Kagoma Reception Centre for the past ten days, Michel told us some of his friends and relatives had been killed with machetes and spears.

Those who managed to survive took refuge in the camp near Bunia General Hospital. “I was training to be a nurse but I preferred to use the money I’d put aside for my studies to cross the lake and come to Uganda.

20-year-old Baraka is a fisherman from Kafé. “On March 8th, at about 5 in the morning, villages on the banks of the lake were on fire. My nets were in the water and I pulled them in quickly to get the fish. When I got closer to Kafé, I saw a woman running towards the lake.

MSF, Democratic Republic of Congo
In the town of Bunia, there are two camps to house thousands of internally displaced. In both, MSF has built toilets and showers and teams are also helping to ensure the camps have a safe water supply. Photo by: John Wessels

A man armed with a machete caught up with her and killed her. My pirogue is just for fishing and wasn’t up to crossing the lake, so I went to the market town, Chomia, to get a boat that could get me to Uganda. My wife and two children had already crossed over. It cost me 10,000 CFA francs.

Tales of houses systematically torched, people hunted down into the forest and murder. A succession of atrocities recounted in a climate of uncertainty as to what is behind the violence and the identities of its perpetrators.

But for many of the refugees arriving in Uganda, what is certain is that these events are more than a resurgence of the historical tensions that for many decades have opposed Lendu and Hema communities in the region.

MSF, Democratic Republic of Congo
MSF is also working around the areas of Tchomia, Kasenyi, Angumu and Mahagi Port, where the focus is on cholera prevention and treatment. Photo by: John Wessels 

Many say they do not know the whereabouts of their families who they were separated from during their flight. Children, pregnant women and the elderly have to fend for themselves.

Aged about 20, Henriette has been living in Kagoma reception centre for the past ten days. She fled when her village in Djugu came under attack in the middle of January.

She does not know where her husband or her child are since losing them in the confusion of the attack and flight. She gave her suitcase containing her clothes to pay for the crossing to Uganda. Four months pregnant, she has no one.

While a system has been set up in Uganda to provide protection and assistance to the refugees, facilities in Hoima district are no longer able to cope with the numbers of people who continue to arrive and there is still insufficient humanitarian aid.

MSF, Democratic Republic of Congo
Over 50,000 people have fled by boat across Lake Albert to Uganda since mid-December. Reception facilities in Uganda are overwhelmed by the number of new arrivals, and health authorities recently confirmed a cholera outbreak in the region, which left at least 36 people dead and nearly 1,800 severe cases hospitalised. Photo by: John Wessels 

Supporting their families is a challenge for the newly arrived. “A week ago we finished the food given to us by the authorities. My uncle manages to find us something to eat, mainly little fish from the lake”, explains 14-year-old Joanne who arrived a short time ago in Maratatu camp.

Father of 8 Emmanuel had decided to return to Ituri less than 20 kilometres from Chomia to see how his fields were doing and bring back some food. “I went to the field very early in the morning to get some manioc. I saw flames in the villages near the lake.

I didn’t know what was on fire. As everything had seemed calm in the previous few days, people in my village who’d been sleeping in the forest because they were scared of the attacks had returned home.

The attackers came back at dawn. They attacked people with machetes, killing as many as they could. The only way for me to survive was to flee again. I brought nothing back with me.”

MSF teams are working in and around Bunia, and also around Mahagi, supporting healthcare, undertaking water and sanitation work and distributing items of basic necessity such as blankets and soap.

Displaced people are living on informal sites, with host families or are sheltering in churches and schools.

Some have been in these conditions for over a month now and there is a very real risk that their health could soon start to deteriorate and we will start seeing cases of severe malnutrition, or measles or cholera epidemic.

Find out more about MSF's work in the Democratic Republic of Congo.