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Refugee crisis strikes Congo

14 November 2008

The Democratic Republic of Congo, a country the size of Western Europe located at the very heart of Africa, has become the backdrop for one of the worst refugee crises in years. As rebel groups under renegade General Laurent Nkunda advance towards Goma in eastern Congo, tales of civilian suffering give a horrific insight into the chaos that results from the continuing clashes between government troops and Nkunda’s rebels: young men killed, women raped by retreating government troops, children kidnapped and forcibly recruited as child soldiers to fight a war that is not their own, soldiers and militias pillaging and looting, and hundreds of thousands of displaced people fleeing for their lives.

The conflict between Nkunda and the Congolese government dates back to the time of the Rwandan genocide, when hundreds of thousands of Tutsi and moderate Hutu were murdered by radical Hutu. In 1994 a remnant of those responsible for the genocide fled into what was then Zaire, organised themselves into the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and continued to commit crimes, against Congolese Tutsi among others. Nkunda, a Tutsi, sees the Congolese government as well as the United Nations (UN) troops as responsible for the failure to disarm and bring to justice the “genocidaires”.

While the Western media are presenting the current crisis as a fairly recent escalation of the unstable situation in the Congo, other sources report that although the current conditions are bad, the fighting is no worse than before. In fact it has been as bad as this or worse a number of times in the recent past, even since the ceasefire agreement four years ago. The difference is that this time the media have been granted freedom of movement, which had been restricted in the past.

Help is needed urgently

Refugee camps are struggling to handle the huge influx of people, and there have already been reports of cholera outbreaks. One source writes: “Conditions are deplorable. There are no latrines, very little water, no food. Around 15,000 people are crowded up to the barbed wire outside the base. They are begging for help.” Thousands of refugees have disappeared from the radar of aid agencies as terrified people flee from the advancing rebel troops and the looting, raping and murdering Congolese government soldiers. Barnabas Fund is working with Christian partners in Congo to try to alleviate the developing crisis, providing emergency aid for those in desperate need.

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