DRC: homeward bound?
I’d been in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for just two days when I visited Minova camp.
It’s a large informal settlement two hours’ drive out of Goma for people forced to flee the latest outbreak of fighting.
Unlike other nearby camps, which were established in 1994 during the genocide, Minova is new. It’s a mixture of the typical rows of makeshift tents, as well as families temporarily living with the host community.
The size is deceptive. Judging by the number of tents alone you’d think there were only a couple of hundred people living here. But latest estimates put the number of displaced families in the camp at over 4,000 – that’s around 14,800 people.
I realised I was standing in one very small area of the camp, and it actually stretched for miles around.
A simple thing
We were there to distribute plastic sheets to the most vulnerable families, including households headed by children.
It’s such a simple thing, a large plastic sheet. But families can use them to build shelters, giving them some privacy, security and protection.
I spoke to several women as they lined up to collect the plastic sheets. Many looked like they were in their mid-twenties – the same age as me – their babies tied to their backs with fabric.
Some women had been in the camps a couple of weeks, others a month or two, since the fighting between the different ex-military and armed groups re-ignited in April.
Most were alone. Their husbands either stayed behind to guard what little assets they had, like their animals, or had become separated or been killed as they fled the violence.
Some villages had some advanced warning of the fighting. People were able to pack up their belongings, including essentials like cooking pots and bedding, and leave before the fighting reached them. Others were caught by surprise and had to flee fast, grabbing their children and leaving.
As well as providing basics like plastic sheets, we’ve also been running a nutrition programme, providing life-saving treatment to severely acutely malnourished children under five.
The health post is small but busy, with trained nutritionists and health staff weighing and measuring the children.
I spoke to Christian, an adorable little boy who loved having his photo taken. He proudly showed me the biro markings on his arm showing his weight and height, so the nutritionist can record his measurements and record his progress.
It’s a strange feeling here in the DRC. Although the conflict between the different groups has intensified since April, and the world’s attention has been drawn to the eastern corner of this vast country, for many Congolese who live in North Kivu, it’s not the first time they’ve been forced to leave their homes.
This is just another spike in an ongoing cycle of violence, displacement, and then relative stability, before the violence starts again.
The resilience of these people is incredible. But when this outbreak of violence stops, I worry about how long the children in the camps will get to go home for. Or if they ever will.
Written by Samantha Crago, Save the Children, DRC