Exodus in DR Congo: Stories from South Kivu

As fighting rages in northeastern DR Congo, more people are fleeing for a safety that can’t be guaranteed.

View of Bugeri site for displaced people in the Minova health zone, South Kivu province, in eastern DRC.

DRC 2024 © Hugh Cunningham

In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), fighting between the Congolese army and its allies against the armed group M23 has forced an estimated 1.5 million people from their homes, contributing to one of the world's largest and longest displacement crises. 

Since February, an escalation of violence in South Kivu province has driven another exodus of civilians, many of whom were already displaced by the conflict in neighboring North Kivu. Many have settled in camps where they live in makeshift shelters without adequate access to water, hygiene, and food. 

Through our medical and humanitarian work in Bugeri camp in South Kivu, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have met displaced people living the everyday consequences of the M23 crisis. Here’s what they shared with us. 

Photography by Hugh Cunningham

Karuba, North Kivu


Before the war, I grew and harvested beans and potatoes. I cooked them and served them to my children, who were healthy. Until we fled the fighting, none of them had been malnourished. Today, feeding them has become difficult.

The day the village was attacked, we were in the field. I fled with my children and the neighbors. Together we arrived at the town of Shasha but the fighting resumed and we fled again, this time to the Bugeri camp [in South Kivu]. [During] the flight I lost my husband. I don't know which path to take to find him. It's already been four months. 

Here, we live in a shelter I made from branches and palm fronds. We have no protection against the rain. I wish I could find a tarp so we could [keep] dry. To earn a little money, I carry packages on my head from the market to the port. With it, I feed my children.

I am visiting the Kishinji Health Center. There, I receive care and my child is monitored. One evening, when I had just given him something to eat, he started vomiting and then had diarrhea. The next morning, I brought him to the health center. It was there I was told he was suffering from malnutrition. Since we left the village, we rarely eat.

A displaced woman in South Kivu, DRC.
View of hilly landscapes in Minova health zone, South Kivu province, eastern Democratic of Congo.
The hills of Minova health zone in South Kivu. DRC 2024 © Hugh Cunningham

North Kivu


I am 80 years old. I had to flee so often that I lost memory of the different trips. My house was burned down. My village was destroyed. Since then, I have been looking for a place to live in peace with my nine children and my grandchildren.  

During the exodus, while we were still in North Kivu, a bomb exploded in Sake. Four of my children died that day. The rest of the family fled here again.

We arrived at Bugeri camp last December. Very weakened by the poor living conditions in the camp, my children often fell ill. I decided to send them to a foster family, where they can sleep sheltered from the rain. They come to visit me when they can.  

At the camp, we displaced people go days without eating. We only have water and we go to sleep hungry. We lack food but also medicine, utensils, blankets, tarpaulins. We all want peace to return and everyone to return home. 

DRC: The conflict provokes a new exodus to South Kivu
The MSF-supported Kishinji health center is located in the Minova health zone in South Kivu province, 3km from the Bugeri IDP site in DRC.
Three kilometers away from Bugeri camp, the MSF-supported Kishinji Health Center provides care for both displaced and local people, and referrals for severe cases to Minova General Referral Hospital, also supported by MSF. DRC 2024 © Hugh Cunningham

Masisi territory, North Kivu


I was a farmer in Masisi territory. Every day I farmed other people's fields in exchange for a salary that was enough for me to take care of my children.

When armed men burst into my village, I was in the field and my children were playing in the yard. We immediately fled. I was carrying my baby on my back, one child in each hand, [with] the other four running in front of me. I lost sight of my husband. We didn't dare rest because we heard the shots all around. After five days of walking without knowing where to go, we finally reached the town of Minova. 

Today, my family leads a miserable life. I have no job, I can no longer farm, we have no means of survival, and I no longer know how to feed my children. 

One of my daughters is having difficulty feeding herself. His state of health continues to deteriorate. I am very worried. Everyday life in the camp becomes more difficult. I believe we are dying of hunger because of the war. The crackling of bullets we hear in Minova terrifies us … what if the war spreads here and forces us to flee again? 

I am five months pregnant. I don't know what the future holds for the baby who will be born. I avoid thinking about it. 

A mother holds her child in Bugeri camp, DRC.
At the MSF-supported Kishinji health center in the Minova health zone, a displaced woman speaks at an MSF-organized session to raise awareness on sexual violence.
An awareness-raising session on sexual violence organized by MSF at Kishinji Health Center. DRC 2024 © Hugh Cunningham

Masisi territory, North Kivu


I arrived at Bugeri camp on January 5, 2024. Before, I lived in a village in the Masisi territory with my nine children and my husband. 

One day while we were in the field, shots rang out. Scared, my husband rushed to our house to gather our children and pack some things. I also ran to him but when I arrived at our house, I found him lying on the floor, bathed in his blood. It only took one bullet to take his life.

To protect our family, I had to flee. We walked to the town of Minova. There, we were told about a camp for displaced people where we could settle. 

So my children have a better chance of surviving, I decided to leave the five oldest ones with host families spread across villages neighboring Minova. The four youngest live with me. Here, we can't find anything to eat, so we sometimes steal vegetables from the fields. When the owners surprise us, we are caught and mistreated before being released.  

We go days and nights without eating anything. We are suffering a lot. I don't even have enough to build a shelter. When it rains, we are beaten by the rain. We spend our nights under the stars. 

A displaced woman in South Kivu, DRC.
Bugeri site for displaced people, Minova health zone, in the South Kivu province of eastern DRC.
In the absence of sufficient humanitarian aid, displaced people are building shelters from branches and palms at Bugeri camp. DRC 2024 © Hugh Cunningham

Masisi territory, North Kivu


I came on foot with my 10 children. In the village I ran a small business, I sold onions and cabbages. I did not see the armed men, but I heard exchanges of fire every day, getting closer and closer. Before it was too late, I decided to leave and took my children on the road. We spent several nights on the way before arriving here in Bugeri on January 8.

I built my hut myself. Unfortunately, one evening it caught fire. 

At first, I easily found work in the fields. Now that there are more and more displaced people, it is much more difficult to find work. So women like me who have dependent babies are no longer employed. The landowners blame [us] for slowing down our work with their tears. They prefer farmers without children. 

Without this income, finding food is even more difficult. The nights are long and when it rains, our shelters [fill with] water. We do not know where to find refuge. I saw bombs killing people around me. When it came to fleeing, I didn't hesitate. My children are the priority and I know they will take care of me more than anyone when the time comes. 

A woman carries her child on her back in Bugeri camp, Minova health zone, South Kivu province, eastern Democratic of Congo.
Lake Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.
MSF teams travel by motorcycle along Lake Kivu to reach the health center in Minova to deliver medical supplies and provide patient care. DRC 2024 © Hugh Cunningham

Four questions about what’s going on in eastern DR Congo

Learn more