Over 11,000 Congolese have fled to Angola this month to escape violence between rebels and government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai Province, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported.
Fighting has dramatically intensified in the region, and many people have escaped for fear of their lives. UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said that some refugees had even been forced to take cover in forests for several days before making their escape.
All the refugees, a large amount of them children, arrive in Angola in desperate condition.
“The situation among arriving refugee children is dire as about half of the arriving refugee population are children,” he said. “Many of them are arriving malnourished and sick, suffering from diarrhea, fever and malaria. Two children are reported to have already died from severe malnutrition inside Angola.”
Baloch added that some parents are making the desperate choice to send their children alone to Angola, for fear that they may be recruited as “child soldiers” by the militias in Kasai. The U.N. has accused the Nsapu rebellion of using child soldiers – a report suggests at least 2,000 have been used – and committing several atrocities, while also denouncing the disproportionate use of force by the military.
Conditions are reported to be overcrowded along the DRC border in Angola, UNHCR reports that refugees are lacking proper shelter and are forced to stay in makeshift buildings. Food, water and other mandatory relief items are believed to be in short supply.
Over one million people have been displaced within the DRC since mid-August when conflict first erupted in Kasai Province.
Fighting in the region erupted after government troops killed tribal chief Jean Pierre Mpandi, also known as Kamwina Nsapu, in August. Mpandi was killed after staging an uprising against President Joseph Kabila.
The U.N. has reported finding 40 mass graves in the Kasai region, and the bodies of two U.N. researchers.
In March this year, militia fighters decapitated around 40 police offers during an ambush – the deadliest attack on security forces since the conflict arose.
With no foreseeable conclusion to the continuing fighting, it is projected that many more people will find themselves attempting to escape the region.