Under the unexpected rain that started early this morning in the month of February, Francine and her children took the path for the Téléga Primary School, a locality situated around 12 kilometres from the city of Bunia, capital of the Ituri Province in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This mother of five children was part of the thousands of people who were forced to flee their villages because of the interethnic violence ravaging the Djugu area, situated in the Ituri Province.
“It’s our own brothers who started to kill us,” Francine says. “They were chopping and killing people with axes, machetes, and arrows. Others had firearms. This is why we fled here,” she elaborates.
This interethnic violence intensified at the start of February and have already caused the death of around a hundred people, the majority of whom are children, and provoked the displacement of more than 111,000 people towards neighbouring Uganda, as well as towards the city of Bunia and its surrounds. While some displaced persons are lodged by host families, the majority of them are in schools, churches, and healthcare centres, including Francine and her children.
Deprived of everything, Francine and her children struggle to eat a meal a day. They drink water from the river and relieve themselves in the open, exposing them to risks linked with diarrhoeic diseases.
Interethnic violence in the Djugu area has a devastating effect on children. At least three healthcare centres and seven schools have been pillaged or set on fire, depriving children of healthcare and education. UNICEF estimates that, as a result of the violence, more than 100 schools have halted their lessons, impeding 30,000 children from being on the classroom benches.
“My five children all went to school when we were at home. But since we arrived here, they no longer go because of a lack of space and of means,” Francine says.
In the face of this crisis, UNICEF and its partners distribute essential household items to displaced families. More than 17,000 displaced persons have found refuge on the site of the Bunia General Hospital. They received a kit composed of tarpaulins, blankets, mats, soap, cups, and plastic buckets. UNICEF has also installed works for water, hygiene and sanitation for the displaced. These interventions are in line with the framework of the Rapid Response to Population Movements program (Réponse Rapide aux Mouvements de Populations – RRMP), which is financially supported by the European Commission’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) department, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), and the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada, and Belgium.
Beyond the humanitarian response, Francine pleads for a lasting solution for the population of the Ituri. “We want to return home. We are asking those who are killing us to put down their weapons.”
Translated from French by Darren Ou Yong
Djaounsede Madjiangar est un Spécialiste de la Communication de l'UNICEF pour la RDC, basé à Goma. Il est convaincu que pour une vie harmonieuse dans la société, chaque enfant doit être élevé dans un esprit de paix, de dignité, de tolérance, de liberté, d’égalité, et de solidarité.
Djaounsede Madjiangarstrong is a UNICEF Communication Specialist for Eastern DRC, based in Goma. He believes that for a harmonious life in a society, every child should be raised in peace, dignity, tolerance, equality and solidarity.
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