History Shouldn’t Repeat Itself, Especially Not in the Congo

Newly arrived refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo queue at the Nakamira transit camp near Gisenyi in northwest Rwanda after fleeing the Masisi region in Congo's North Kivu province

Newly arrived refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo queue at the Nakamira transit camp near Gisenyi in northwest Rwanda after fleeing the Masisi region in Congo’s North Kivu province

“When the soldiers started to shoot, I ran. I thought my family was following,” a 15-year-old told UNHCR after arriving at Rwanda’s Nkamira Transit Centre.

He is just one of more than 6,000 Congolese to have crossed into Rwanda in the last 10 days due to increased violent clashes between the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and a large group of mutineers loyal to General Bosco Ntaganda. History is repeating itself, and this time it’s the Congolese who are fleeing to Rwanda. And perversely, these innocent Congolese civilians are trying to get away from ex-Rwandan/CNDP rebels who waged genocide in Rwanda eighteen years ago and escaped to neighboring Congo to evade justice and the consequences of their actions.

“The transit camp cannot cope with that number (of refugees) because the number is increasing on a daily basis. We have gone beyond the capacity of this camp. We are trying to construct more shelters. We are expanding the water and sanitation facilities,” said Richard Ndaula, the U.N. emergency team leader in Nkamira.

Others have fled to Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, from their homes in the Masisi and Walikale territories where fighting has intensified the most in the last month. The United Nations estimates about 58,000 were displaced within the province between January and March, a U.N. statement said. Statistics can be numbing sometimes, but this staggering statistic of 300,00 people being displaced throughout the country in the first three months of 2012 should serve as a burning wake-up call. Despondently, for Congolese, this isn’t the first time in the lives that they have been displaced, the cycle of violence is never-ending.

“It is nearly impossible to believe that, year after year, the lives of people in eastern Congo continue to be destroyed. The international community must commit to ensuring this region becomes safe and finally free of the armed groups, interested only in its natural resources, who prevent innocent civilians from living in peace”, said JRS Great Lakes Director, Tony Calleja SJ.

In addition, renewed attacks by the LRA in Orientale province has displaced more than 2,500 people, most of whom have fled to Dungu or nearby sites for internally displaced people (IDP), where they receive help from UNHCR and its partners. Just Wednesday, at least three people have been killed and 51 abducted, including 16 children. LRA fighters have built up a reputation for their random spurts of violence,looting, rape, and abducting people from the villages that they terrorize.Long-term security is the most important concern for the displaced.

Why is Congo plagued with such relentless bloodshed?

As we celebrate Mother’s Day here, let us commemorate the power of mothers and women in the Congo. Noella, displaced from the war, now manages a medical center, the Sofepadi Association. She says,  “Women contribute a lot to the peace process. They are the mothers at home. They can easily influence their households. And when you have influence in your home, you may also have influence outside.” Watch the video to learn more:

"Women are a force which can change the world”

“Women are a force which can change the world”

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