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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Children on the run from conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo

© UNICEF/HQ05-1240/LeMoyne
A boy recovers from a machete wound incurred when a militia group attacked his village in the eastern region of Ituri.

In Child Alert: Democratic Republic of Congo, UNICEF is highlighting the effect on children of years of conflict and unrest. This is the second of three special reports for Child Alert by UNICEF Correspondent David McKenzie

KISANGANI, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 31, 2006 – A child stomps maize outside her home on the shores of Lake Albert, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It seems at first glance like a peaceful scene but her shelter is a green sheet wrapped over a skeleton of sticks and rebel fighters lurk in the hills surrounding the camp. Like so many other children here, this girl has grown up on the run from conflict.

Despite the signing of a peace accord in 2003, Congolese men, women and children have been forced from their homes in droves. The scale of this upheaval is staggering – more than 100,000 people are forced to flee every month and an estimated total of 1.6 million people have been displaced by more than a decade of fighting.

“Life in a rural village in eastern Congo right now is very difficult,” says Luciano Calesteni, emergency officer for UNICEF. “It is a tragic cycle of movement and movement again and movement again.”

© UNICEF/HQ05-1237/LeMoyne
More than 20,000 people live in this camp for displaced people in the eastern region of Ituri.

Militia groups

A slew of militia groups from inside and outside the country fight over DRC’s rich mineral resources. They pillage the countryside, rape women and girls and fight each other in eternal squabbles for supremacy. Even the new integrated government army is poorly paid and supplied and has even targetted the population that it is supposed to protect.

It is the women and children that are worst affected. Children don’t get a chance to attend school and must depend on humanitarian agencies for medical attention. Often the internally displaced camp near UN Peacekeeping bases which they hope will provide some protection if there is trouble. 

Kisangani saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war. Here, Mpunge Welo lives in what is left of his once elegant white house.

“We lost everything,” says Welo as he picks through his destroyed home, “Now we have lost everything.”

When the Ugandan military passed through this area at the start of the worst fighting, they told Welo and his family to take what they could and cross Tshopo the river to safety. When they returned, their house was destroyed.

Welo now hopes that political stability might come to his country. He still feels the pain of the war in the bits of shrapnel in his face, arm and leg. But he is determined that the country shall move on.

“There is no way that we will accept the war comes back to this area ever again,” he says.

UNICEF at work

To help stave the devastating effects of the continuing displacement in large parts of the country, UNICEF uses a substantial portion of its resources to provide emergency assistance to children and women in particular.

With UN and other partners, UNICEF has set up systems to reach the immediate needs of the worst affected. Recent escalations in the conflict ahead of this month’s nationwide elections have increased the number of assisted people to 120,000 per month.

In spite of the hope for a more stable future that elections can offer, displaced families in DRC continue to be desperately in need of help from the outside world.

Click here to launch the multimedia Child Alert report.




31 July 2006:
UNICEF correspondent David McKenzie reports on the plight of Congolese children displaced by conflict.
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