More than 30,000 people displaced by fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been cut off from aid because of ongoing insecurity, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said on Thursday.
Tens of thousands of people were forced to flee Mpati in North Kivu province after fighting erupted there at the end of March between government forces and armed groups, the NRC said.
“There are more than 30,000 people displaced all over the place without support because we are for now unable to reach them because of the potential risk,” Mickael Amar, NRC’s head of mission in Congo, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“This is something common here in Congo, we are used to (stopping) activities because of insecurity and we go back after 10 or 15 days, but 10 or 15 days for a displaced person without any support is a lot,” he said in a phone interview from Congo.
Amar said that although NRC has not yet been able to assess the exact needs of the displaced, they lacked food and shelter.
In a statement, he urged the warring parties to give aid agencies access to the people in need. “If this does not happen we will see an already critical situation turning drastically worse,” he said.
In January, the United Nations said a surge in kidnappings and general insecurity in North Kivu province in recent months had made delivering life-saving humanitarian aid a “Herculean task”.
Congo’s east has been plagued by instability since regional wars between 1996 and 2003 killed millions, most from hunger and disease. Dozens of armed groups continue to prey on the local population and exploit the region’s rich mineral deposits.
Amar said that last week unknown people entered an NRC compound in Mpati and stole some of their assets, including phones and radio equipment.
“It shows that humanitarian access starts to be a bit complicated,” he said.
“Today we’ve been informed that shooting took place in the same area … No one has been injured because it was shooting in the sky (but) it creates a lot of confusion.”
In January, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) closed one of its projects in Congo following a December attack on one of their convoys and abduction of two of their staff.
Amar said NRC was trying to negotiate with the Congolese government safe access to the displaced people through other partners, including the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).