United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)

United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)

More than 140 people have been killed in horrific intercommunal violence in the west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday, briefing journalists in Geneva, that some victims had been beheaded.

The conflict between the Teke and Yaka communities was reportedly sparked by a dispute over customary land taxes.

Since July, the insecurity has forced thousands from their homes in Kwamouth, near the border with the Republic of Congo.

Canoe escape

Latest data indicates that 27,000 mainly women and children have been displaced and need urgent assistance in Kwilu and Mai Ndombe provinces.

Another 2,600 people have sought refuge in the Republic of Congo after crossing the Congo River in canoes. Many have become separated from family members while fleeing for safety.

“Heavy rains have made getting to safety more difficult for civilians and several key routes have become impassable to humanitarian vehicles delivering life-saving assistance,” said UNHCR Representative in the DRC, Angele Dikongue-Atangana.

She noted that aid teams who had reached displaced communities reported that people fled for their lives, seeking safety in the forest.

Harvests untended

Many had to leave their farms and abandon their harvests, and walk for days to reach Bandundu town, some 245 kilometres – or 152 miles - away.

Host families in Bandundu and other towns have welcomed those forced to flee, the UN agency said. One local chief took in 28 people, including a young man who was injured in the fighting.

Another host family has opened its doors to 77 people, but resources are running low and other households have begun rationing meals to one a day.

Open-door policy

At the border with the Republic of the Congo, UNHCR has supported the authorities by registering new arrivals and providing relief items.

Once in the Republic of the Congo, many asylum-seekers find shelter with host families. But conditions are precarious and some have to sleep out in the open, while others have erected makeshift shelters.

Those who are living with host families face crowded conditions.

Malnourished kids

“Food is scarce (and) over 30 malnourished children have been identified by local health staff, including one child with severe malnutrition who was referred to the nearest hospital in Gamboma,” said UNHCR’s Ms. Dikongue-Atangana.

The latest displacement in the DRC had placed additional pressure on the agency’s already severely underfunded response to assist 521,000 refugees and more than 5.5 million internally displaced people.

With only three months of the year left, only 40 per cent of the $225.4 million appeal has been funded.

Similarly, in the Republic of the Congo, UNHCR has only received 16 per cent of the $37.4 million it needs for its refugee response this year.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).