NEW YORK (April 7, 2022) – UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell today appealed for an urgent political resolution to end ongoing violence in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Ms. Russell had just concluded a visit to Ituri Province, an area which has been hard-hit by attacks on civilians.
During her time in Ituri, Ms. Russell traveled to Rhoe, the site of a camp that is now home to an estimated 63,000 people, including 36,000 children, who have been internally displaced by conflict and violence. Many of those sheltering at the camp arrived last November after being driven from a different camp for the internally displaced in the nearby town of Drodro that was attacked by men wielding machetes. That incident was one of the latest bouts of inter-community violence that has plagued eastern DRC for decades and displaced approximately five million people.
Ms. Russell spoke with children and families impacted by the violence, including Blukwa* – a 14-year-old boy who narrowly escaped being killed in Drodro, but witnessed the brutal murder of his best friend in the attack.
“[Blukwa] told me that after witnessing the murder of his best friend, he wanted to die as well,” said Ms. Russell. “No child should ever experience such tragedy and horror. Over the last two decades, countless children in eastern DRC have suffered terribly due to conflict and persistent attacks on civilians. They need an urgent political resolution to this crisis so they can live in peace.”
During the attack on Drodro, [Blukwa] and other children were separated from their families amidst the chaos. [Blukwa] and nearly 60 other children have since been reunited with their families through the work of AJEDEC – a Congolese NGO supported by UNICEF.
UNICEF is warning of the dire conditions in the Rhoe camp. The violence that has caused multiple displacements in the area has continued over the past two weeks and shows no sign of abating. The camp, located 30 miles northeast of the provincial capital Bunia, was up until recently only accessible to aid agencies by helicopter because of insecurity and attacks on humanitarian workers. The area around the camp continues to come under attack from multiple armed groups.
“Thousands of children and families are effectively trapped on a remote hill with extremely limited protection and access to shelter and essential services like safe water, sanitation, education, health and nutrition,” said Ms. Russell. “We have already seen outbreaks of respiratory illnesses, diarrhea and malaria. Every effort should be made to strengthen service delivery for people sheltering at the Rhoe camp and to protect them from violence.”
UNICEF and its partners are expanding their work for children and families in the Rhoe camp, including recent distributions of more 5,000 kits containing blankets, buckets, jerry cans, kitchenware and soap. UNICEF is also working with partners to provide children in the camp with education and psychosocial support.
UNICEF’s education program in the camp benefits 1,200 displaced and host community primary school children. It accommodates pupils from five schools that had to be abandoned because of the mass displacements. Many children attend class in several vast tents located next to a host community school that overlooks the camp.
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