|© UNICEF DR Congo/2006/Crowe|
|Children from many ethnic groups have been displaced due to fighting in the remote regions of North Kivu.|
By Sarah Crowe
BENI, DR Congo, 3 February 2006 – The preferred way of life for the Pygmy population around North Kivu is to remain in forested areas. But now they are being forced to flee their villages by a recent upsurge in fighting in the area.
According to humanitarian relief workers, this is an indication that the situation has become much worse in recent weeks. “Pygmies very seldom leave their forests,” said Gregory Chevrel of Solidarité, a UNICEF-supported non-governmental organization which assists people who have had to abandon their homes. “They keep to themselves, hunting and remaining very isolated from others.
“But in the past few weeks there are several factions of armed rebels operating all around their villages, so they’ve fled now for help. If they go home they could be tortured, or killed.”
At sites for displaced people, huts with plastic sheeting provide shelter and are equipped with mosquito nets to help prevent malaria. Brand new latrines and water containers have been supplied by UNICEF, Oxfam and Solidarité.
Most of the people who have fled here are staying simply out of fear. “We cannot go home, there’s nothing there,” said Kibanjanga Malaibi, one of the displaced and a member of the Pygmy population. “We must just stay here near the others.”
|© UNICEF DR Congo/2006/Crowe|
|Kibanjanga Malaibi with children from his Pygmy community in DR Congo. A camp for displaced people is now their only home.|
Populations on the move
Many of the displaced are congregating along the main roads through DR Congo. The hope is that being visible will mean help and safety. But in this vast country reaching those in need, especially during the rainy season, can be a real challenge. The transportation infrastructure is not well developed and food aid can take weeks to get through.
Eastern DR Congo has long been a volatile area. In recent weeks conflict has flared among rebel groups and foreign militias, from neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda, which are active in the region. Some displaced people reportedly even fear the national Congolese army; there have been reports that villages have been looted.
Humanitarian organizations fear that mass population movements will increase further as the elections, set for April and June, draw near. At present there is a constant flow of people moving between Beni and Eringeti in the North Kivu area. UNICEF has already assisted 7700 families who have fled their homes, by providing support for sanitation facilities, health care and emergency education.
A previous wave of people was displaced by conflict further north in Ituri in 2004. Many of the newly displaced people have settled on sites still being used by them. It is a burden too for existing communities. UNICEF has helped construct extra classrooms to accommodate the new students, but for each new classroom, a teacher has to be found and school supplies have to be brought in.
Being forced from their homes means quite literally taking on a new identity for many thousands of Congolese. Clinging to his mother’s breast was a fluffy haired, fifteen-day-old baby boy, born on the run from the fighting. His mother named him ‘Mkimbizi’ Kiswahili, meaning ‘Displaced’.
3 February 2006:
UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports from DR Congo on the displacement of Pygmy populations by armed conflict.