Thousands of Congolese people fled across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border into Uganda in late November. An Amnesty International research team was present, recording their stories.
Many of those fleeing had been on the road for days, carrying what few possessions they had been able to gather in the moments before an armed group attack swept down on their towns and villages.
Many told the research team how they had been robbed by marauding gunmen on the roads leading to the border inside DRC. Others witnessed abductions of civilians by armed group fighters, usually to serve as porters to carry looted goods.
A large proportion of those fleeing were children, many of whom had become separated from their parents during their flight. Around 30,000 have so far sought refuge in Uganda.
Elisa, 18 and heavily pregnant, told Amnesty International that her husband had been shot dead a few metres from their home in Kiwanja by armed group fighters who had then stolen his motorbike.
"We had only been married for six months," she said. She fled in fear and spent four days hiding in the bush before returning home to bury her husband. Then she took the road to Uganda with her elderly mother-in-law, walking for more than 50km.
Within DRC, tens of thousands of displaced remain beyond humanitarian assistance because of continuing insecurity. These people are often without adequate shelter, food supplies, water or sanitation. More than 10,000 cases of cholera have now been reported in the province.
Across North Kivu, many people are too traumatized and afraid to go into their fields to collect food, deepening food insecurity and levels of malnutrition in the province. Amnesty International has received numerous reports of soldiers and armed group members pillaging food stores and stealing crops. Army soldiers and armed group fighters have also deliberately looted food aid after humanitarian distribution.
Humanitarian workers, braving the roads without adequate protection, are acutely vulnerable to acts of violence and harassment. On 15 December, a Congolese humanitarian worker was killed by unidentified gunmen in Rutshuru territory.
His death brings to more than 100 the number of attacks, vehicle hijacking, shooting and other acts of intimidation against humanitarian workers, vehicles or facilities in North-Kivu since the beginning of 2008.
Amnesty International is appealing to all parties to the conflict:
- to allow unconditional and unhindered humanitarian access to displaced and vulnerable populations
- to immediately end all attacks against humanitarian personnel and property, and
- to halt the systematic looting of food supplies.