D.R. CONGO: Salesians Aid Refugees Amid Ongoing Fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(MissionNewswire) Last week in Goma, hostilities between the Congolese army (FARDC) and the 23 March Movement (M23) rebel group escalated leaving thousands of men, women and children looking for safety and shelter from the fighting.
According to UNICEF, as of November, more than 2.4 million people have been displaced within the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of fighting between the Congolese army and various rebel groups. This includes 1.6 million people in North and South Kivu, more than 60 percent of whom are women and children.
The situation continued to escalate and by Nov. 25, potential talks between the Congolese government and M23 rebels ground to a halt. According to a Reuters report, Congo has said it would not negotiate with M23 rebels in the east until they pulled out of the city of Goma, while a rebel spokesman said Kinshasa was in no position to set conditions on peace talks. The rebels say they plan to march on other cities in the east, and then strike further out across the country.
Since the fighting broke out last week, more than 7,000 people have taken refuge at the Salesian-run Don Bosco Ngangi Educational Center in Goma. The facility is run with the support of International Volunteers for Development (VIS), a Don Bosco Network organization.
Close to 5,000 of these refugees are children and 111 arrived without any visible means of support. Refugees are encamped in various rooms, in makeshift shelters on the basketball fields and in every available space.
“The respite provided will not last,” says Father Piero Gavioli, director of the Salesian Center last week in the early days of the fighting escalation. “If we feed them as we are doing, quite soon we will have nothing left for the 3,300 at-risk children who frequent the center every day. We have had water from the International Red Cross, with some biscuits and a promise of food by the World Food Program.”
Refugees have organized themselves in the classrooms, and cattle have been led out to pastures elsewhere. The Salesian Center is facing various problems of overcrowding and lack of food and medicine. Given the lack of security in the city, trucks were unable to bring the Salesian Center water, food and medicines.
In a recent news release, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos said that the insecurity in the region is preventing the delivery of the most basic humanitarian assistance and acknowledged that many of the communities hosting the thousands of refugees are already overstretched.
According to a UNICEF report, UNICEF driver Mansour Rwagaza saw first-hand how dangerous it was to deliver supplies to the region. He heard gunshots and shelling as he arrived at the Don Bosco Center with 20,000 high-energy biscuits for refugee children there. But he said the risk taken to complete the delivery was worth it to save the lives of children.
In addition to the threat of supplies running low, the threat of water-borne diseases such as cholera is acute. Two cases of cholera have already been identified at the Salesian Center.
As the conflict continues, the Salesians and volunteers remain vigilant coping with the emergency and addressing the needs of the refugees. The volunteers have divided into three groups – the first makes a list of arrivals, the second listens to the refugees to understand their needs and the third looks out for malnourished children who need urgent food aid.
“We counted 2,578 adults and 4,962 children but there are undoubtedly more, because in the morning many young people and adults go into town,” explains Fr. Gavioli. “There were 316 malnourished children who we provided energy supplements to.”
“With regard to the intentions of the refugees, almost everyone wants to go home, seeking help for traveling, food for the first few days and a tarpaulin for shelter from the rain, since they have no idea whether or not their homes or huts still have a roof,” adds Fr. Gavioli.
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Photos courtesy of of International Volunteers for Development (VIS)