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Published on 28 March 2024

Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and especially North Kivu province, is in the midst of a deadly conflict that has intensified in recent months, in particular since a ceasefire expired in late December 2023.

The ongoing conflict between the militant group M23 and government forces has forced over 1.5 million to flee their homes with many now living in displacement camps.

Patricia Stephenson, Christian Aid Ireland’s Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention Advisor, recently travelled to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, and visited makeshift displacement camps where many people who have fled fighting across the province have been sheltering.

They have little to nothing. They left behind their belongings when they were forced to abandon their homes and flee the fighting.

- Patricia.
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Christian Aid Ireland’s Patricia Stephenson alongside Christian Aid’s security adviser Ghislain Abedi Kikanda speaking with people living in Kanyaruchinya makeshift displacement camp. Credit: Daniel Kifutwe/Christian Aid
people sitting and talking

It was in Don Bosco makeshift displacement camp on the outskirts of Goma town that Patricia met 31-year-old Therese (not her real name) who fled from Biruma in Rutshuru territory.

I arrived here in 2022. I left because there was a lot of violence by M23. There were a lot of people killed in my village.

- Therese.

Therese lives in a small tent made of tarpaulin with her husband and four children. As Patricia describes, the conditions faced by Therese as well as others living in Don Bosco and Kanyaruchinya are incredibly challenging.

“These are cramped, informal camps without any official agency providing food, clean water or toilets. People have built themselves makeshift shelters by pulling tarpaulin over whatever other materials they can salvage,” Patricia said.

“In the camps there is no land to grow crops on and there are very few opportunities for work, which means people are left hungry and not knowing when their next meal will come,” she added.

However, this is the daily reality faced by Therese’s family.

“It is not a good life here. We are hungry, there is nothing to eat. I don’t feel safe in the camp because even if there is police, most of the time you can hear gunshots around,” she said.

I hope to go back home. This is not the life I was supposed to have,” Therese added.

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Therese (not her real name), pictured in front of the tent she is living in with her husband and four children in Don Bosco makeshift displacement camp Credit: Daniel Kifutwe/Christian Aid
Woman holds child

According to Christian Aid’s local partner Ecumenical Development Support Office (BOAD) approximately 2,500 people are living in Don Bosco camp. It was in this same camp that Patricia also met with 26-year-old Monique who arrived in July 2022 having also fled a village in Rutshuru during an earlier wave of violence.

“In 2022 I was a farmer. I grew some food to eat but I left because of the war. I was afraid, every day there were people killed around us,” Monique said.

“I was pregnant at the time so my husband decided we needed to leave because I could lose the baby. So I decided to come here to survive and try to have my baby quietly,” she added.

Monique lives with her husband, her sisters as well as two children who were orphaned after their parents were tragically killed. Like Therese, Monique has found getting enough food to eat a significant challenge.  

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26-year-old Monique (not her real name) pictured in front of her tent in Don Bosco makeshift displacement camp Credit: Daniel Kifutwe/Christian Aid
Woman standing in front of home

For me, the main problem here is hunger. We don’t have anything to eat. My hope is that the war will stop so I can go back and continue to farm.

- Monique.

Both Therese and Monique’s families were amongst 300 families who received emergency support from our local partner BOAD. They received the equivalent of $90 in cash so they could buy food and other essentials. Additionally, our partner also provided 100 people from these families with counselling to help them cope with their traumatic experiences.

However, returning safely home sadly appears a distant prospect for families displaced around Goma. It’s estimated that another 135,000 displaced people fled to Goma in early February alone after fighting reached the town of Sake just 25km away.

As the number of people fleeing to Goma continues to grow, aid agencies on the ground as well local authorities are coming under huge pressure to be able to shelter  new arrivals. 

As the violence edges closer to Goma – an area home to 2 million people, including half a million already displaced by previous waves of violence – there is a risk that the city will also become under siege, heightening the risk of food shortages.

With no end in sight to the conflict, Patricia fears for what the future will hold for those she met with unless additional and much needed support comes their way, and fast.

“In their villages they had homes and farms. They had certainty about their daily lives. They had hopes for the future. But this war and violence has taken all of that away from them,” Patricia said. 

“This really is an overlooked crisis. The needs of the people in the camps I visited are huge and growing by the day. More funds are urgently needed to support those who have been and continue to be displaced by this conflict.”

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