Surging Refugees of DRC Conflict

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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

The Democratic Republic of Congo had one of the largest number of people displaced, in 2016. A report by the International Displacement Monitoring Centre, of the Norwegian Refugee Council, puts it around 922,000 in 2016. This figure was more than that of Syrian and Iraqi refugees within the same year.

According to Global Conflict Tracker, as of February 2018, there have been up to 4.1 million internally displaced people, and there is a presence of around 21,000 UN soldiers, in the DRC. In 2017, around 120,000 DRC Congolese, fled to neighbouring countries.

Since the beginning of 2018, around 22,000 DRC Congolese crossed to Lake Albert to Uganda, bringing the total number of DRC Congolese refugees to 34,000 this year. The refugees, along with their luggage and fishing nets, use canoes or overcrowded fishing boats, often carrying around 250 people on an average. The journey takes them up to ten hours.

Since December 2017, there has been a renewed outpour of violence, where around thousand houses have been burned in the Ituri province. In North and South Kivu provinces, of the Ituri region, the militias hold large areas.

The roads of the villages in the Kasai province are called as ‘hunger roads’, where around 42% of people risk starvation. As of now, more than 600 schools have been damaged in attacks and 150,000 children in the Greater Kasai region need emergency support. Cholera outbreak had also resulted in the Bukama territory in 2016.

Around $368.7 million has been requested by the UNHCR for the Congolese refugee situation, but only 1 percent has been funded so far for building shelter, food and other vital support.
UNHCR spokesman, Babar Baloch, believes that the situation seems to be the biggest exodus of refugees from Ituri since two decades. In the past, around 400,000 people were displaced and tens of thousands were killed in clashes between the Hema and Lendu tribes over cattle and grazing rights.

The DRC conflict has largely been aggravated, due to ethnic conflicts and frequent skirmishes between the armed groups such as Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who control weak governed areas of the country and finance their groups with DRC's rich natural resources (diamonds, gold, cobalt, zinc and coltan estimated around $24 trillion).

It is estimated that around 250 ethnic groups live in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Between them, innumerous greedy businessmen, unscrupulous corporations, warlords and corrupt government officials are trying to have their piece of the cake, trying to gain lucrative advantages arising from the conflict. It is believed that almost all of DRC’s gold is smuggled for export from Dubai. The leaders sitting in Kinshasa have not become serious of these smuggling practices.

Since the independence in 1960, most of the provinces in DRC have been disintegrated. Since the war was over in 2003, its eastern province has remained very volatile. Deaths are estimated around 45,000 per month.

Going back to history, British, Dutch, Arab and Portuguese merchants engaged in slave trade, until Belgians colonised Congo.

When Second Congo War (also known as Africa’s World War) started in 1998, eight African nations and twenty armed groups were involved. It had been regarded as the deadliest war since World War II, where 2 million Africans were internally displaced and over thousand Africans died every day from malnutrition and disease. There was also trade of the conflict minerals at a sheer scale, including tin, tungsten and tantalum (3Ts) sold by the armed groups. The war had eventually ended through the Sun City Agreement and the Pretoria Accord, but hostilities, still continue, through Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency, mainly in the eastern DRC, and the Kivu and Ituri conflicts.

In 2015, DRC had faced constitutional crises and led to massive demonstrations. The looters had attacked Chinese national run businesses in the capital, for the resentment of their low selling prices. Around 26 activists, journalists, diplomats and civilians were arrested in Kinshasa while attending a workshop on freedom of expression. It included journalists from the BBC, AFP and RTBF. These journalists were beaten by the army and interrogated by the national intelligence.

In DRC’s political timeline, it was only in 2006 when first free elections were held. At the present moment in time, the Ugandan government is investigating the allegations of gross mismanagement, malpractices in registration, trafficking of girls and women, from the Congolese refugee crises in the country.

Rwanda has been accused of financing M23 militia members, a mainly ethnic Tutsi rebel group in eastern DRC. M23 militia (March 23 Movement), defeated in 2013, believed that the DRC government did not respect the peace accord, signed in 2009.

During 1996, Rwanda and Uganda invaded DRC to rout out the remaining perpetrators in the First Congo War. It eventually had led to the downfall of the DRC dictator, Mobuto Sese Seko. In fact, Rwanda and DRC have bitter relations since the infamous 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Coming back to the time, when fighting occurred at the Rwandan border, at the foot of Mount Nikeno in North Kivu province, the DRC army had exchanged fire with the Rwandan army, who they initially thought of as ex M23 (March 23) members.


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