DRC: Civilians and Aid Workers Victims of Renewed Fighting in the Kivus

Civilians and aid workers are increasingly the targets of violence in DRC, where security risks have made it difficult to provide medical care.

DRC 2011 © Ben Milpas

Children at the Mweso hospital, where MSF is continuing to work despite the threat of continuing violence

Paris/New York, April 11, 2012—Civilians and aid workers are increasingly the targets of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where armed conflicts and large troop movements have recently intensified, and where security risks have made it increasingly difficult to continue to provide medical care, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Wednesday.

National and international stabilization forces in DRC have never been more important, but MSF questions their effectiveness given the worsening situation.

"The situation is not stabilizing in Kivu,” said MSF program manager Dr. Marcela Allheimen. “It is deteriorating again, and has been deteriorating over the last several months. We are noticing renewed violence, but what is most alarming is the commonplace nature of violence on civilian populations and aid actors.”

Since November 2011, MSF teams have been victims of more than 15 acts of violence, including a raid last week by armed and uniformed men of an MSF house in Baraka, South Kivu Province. More seriously, on April 4, two MSF staff members—a nurse and a logistician—were kidnapped on a road near Nyanzale in North Kivu Province. They were released a few hours later.

Items such as food, money, and mobile phones are also being extorted, mostly to supply military logistics.

As a result of the heightened security risks, MSF—one of the few medical aid organizations present in North and South Kivu—has suspended its activities in Nyanzale, reduced them in Rutshuru, and has withdrawn its team in the Butembo area.

For the civilian populations, access to medical care has become even more difficult, and movement is limited due to the heightened risk for civilians. Sick people are afraid to travel to reach the health centers. Few people go to work in the fields due to lack of security, afraid they will be robbed, become victims of extortion, or worse. In some cases, civilians have been drafted to transport the belongings of armed men and there have been reports of women being held as slaves.

Despite the fragile security situation, MSF continues to have teams on the ground in North and South Kivu providing medical care, notably in Kitchanga, Mweso, Pinga, Rutshuru, Baraka, Lulimba, Kalonge, and Shabunda.