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Democratic Republic of Congo: precarious lives of displaced persons in Masisi
27 November 2012

Women, children and men fleeing Masisi, without food or water, after violent clashes between the army and a local militia. This picture was taken by a JRS staff member with a cell phone. (Inés Oleaga/JRS).
Goma, 27 November 2012 – On the one hand displaced Congolese are living in constant fear of the imminent arrival of the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels, which have already taken control of Goma, the North Kivu capital in eastern Congo. On the other hand, day in, day out they are suffering the effects of the violent attacks of numerous rebel groups in the area.

This is the precarious situation in which the inhabitants of Masisi district, approximately 100 kilometres from Goma, have been living for the past several days.

Flight in the forest. "We abandoned our homes unable to bring food with us. We fled into the forest with only one objective in mind, our safety. And we don't have any idea of when or how we will return home", said Paluku*, an inhabitant of Masisi, who fled his home on Sunday 25 November following the outbreak of fighting between the Congolese army and an ethnic Mai-Mai militia group.

Severe fighting began on Sunday after the Mai-Mai militia, which is believed to be allied with the M23, attempted to take control of the weapons of the Congolese army. The rebels, many of whom defected from the ranks of the national army last April, were reported to have marched towards other areas of North Kivu, including Masisi, in the last seven days, in an attempt to defeat other armed groups active in the area.

"When we heard gunfire, we witnessed the mass flight of the population of Masisi. In the beginning, many sought safety in the parish, then they began fleeing towards Nyabiondo. People had a look of fear in their eyes", said a staff member of Masisi.

A sense of insecurity. Many people, including internally displaced persons (IDPs), found refuge in the nearby Bukombo camp, where they crowded together in school buildings.

"We don't have anything to eat or drink. Above all, the women and children are in a state of shock. And we don't have any idea of when we'll finally have peace. Today we fled from the Mai-Mai militias, tomorrow it may be from M23", Paluku told a JRS staff member.

Notwithstanding the deterioration of the crisis in North Kivu following the fall of Goma to M23 rebels, JRS teams in Masisi district briefly re-established its formal and informal education activities, including the construction of a secondary school.

Bora Mwazo, a 24-year-old displaced mother of four, is one of the students of the JRS literacy and vocational training courses. She decided to return to the school in Masisi where she is learning to be a tailor, despite the climate of insecurity and fear.

"People say the M23 rebels will arrive shortly in Masisi, and when that happens I don't know how I will be able to flee with my children or where I'll be able to go. But today I wanted to come to school to find a little peace and forget about the war", the women said a few days ago.

The state of Bora Mwazo and her family is unknown at the moment. What is certain is that the young woman feared the arrival of M23 forces and eventually fled fighting between the army and the Mai-Mai militia. We do not know whether or not she managed to find refuge from the various armed groups. 

Regardless of the armed groups responsible for the violence, Bora's situation is emblematic of the insecurity in the lives of those living in Masisi and North Kivu.

Meanwhile, after an outbreak of recent violence, JRS has been forced to suspend all activities in Masisi.

Danilo Giannese, Advocacy and Communications Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service Great Lakes Africa

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