DR Congo (MNN/MAF) — Violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has caused thousands of displaced people to flood the city of Bunia, where two makeshift refugee camps have sprung up.
According to Jon Cadd, program manager with Christian organization Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in eastern DRC, the camps lack enough food and shelter for all the refugees. A small group of local Christians is attempting to feed the hungry, and MAF has provided rice, beans, maize meal, and cooking oil, but it’s just a drop in the bucket.
“There are over 100,000 IDPs (internally displaced people) in Bunia now,” said Cadd. “The big humanitarian organizations are still assessing the situation and organizing things to come, so there is still no food coming into the camp other than what the Bunia Christians are giving out. Today there were two bags of rice at the storage tent when we got there. We were able to purchase a 300-liter cooking pot at the market along with 30 more bags of rice to keep them going.”
Shelter for the displaced Congolese people is also in short supply. MAF reports refugees are constructing tent frames by tying together stalks of thick grass, but the camps have run out of tarps for the makeshift shelters, leaving thousands of people exposed to the rainy-season weather.
The crisis is expected to grow as people in eastern DRC are forced to flee their homes and villages. The MAF team heard of 41 civilians killed along the Lake Albert shoreline north of Tchomia. Many people are trying to flee by boat to Uganda, but this week one of the overloaded boats capsized and 10 people drowned.
Cadd said some of the refugees who reach Bunia are injured but medical care is not available. “There is a tent where the wounded are being placed but no medical work is going on and it’s hot beyond reason and feels very unhealthy. We saw people with machete wounds to the head, including a one-year-old who was cut across the face … and a little eight- or nine-year-old girl cut across the back of her neck.”
These injured families had not eaten in four days, so the MAF team decided to do a little extra for them.
“We got 10 tarps, five local cooking stoves called babulas, some pots, plates and cups, as well as food, and were able to give it to them personally so they didn’t have to wait in the long lines. When you can’t help everyone it feels like the little we are doing is useless in the scheme of things. But as it rained in the evening, we knew that at least 10 more families were not out in the rain and had food to eat,” said Cadd.
MAF’s Ashley Petersen said one of the biggest needs in the IDP camps right now is for more tarps.
“One lady, Juliet, she had three children and had walked for four days to get to the camp. Her husband remained with their home to try to protect it and keep it. She didn’t know if he was alive or not or if their home was still standing. But she and her children were sleeping underneath this frame in the rain. We were able to go back in and hand-deliver a tarp to her.
“She is never going to forget that moment and what it did for her family. It’s going to cause ripples for her in her life and possibly for eternity thinking about how in that moment some people came in Jesus’ name and gave her and her children a tarp to sleep under.”
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“It’s that small piece. We cannot be everything to everyone. But if one person decides, ‘You know what? I want to put one tarp over a family’s head,’ that’s $15 and they don’t have to sleep in the rain.”
Petersen said your prayers are also needed. “Prayer is always important. If people can continually pray for peace here, it makes a world of difference. There is more going on than just the actual acts of violence. There is such a stronghold here with the Enemy, it’s just unbelievable at times the things that you experience living here and see. So prayer is very important.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world, and is frequently troubled by violence. According to The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in January 2018 more than 4.5 million people were displaced inside the country. Lack of roads and infrastructure, as well as political uncertainty, contribute to the insecurity.
Mission Aviation Fellowship (www.maf.org) is a global agency that has been operating in the DRC since 1961. Serving with seven aircraft from bases in Nyankunde, Bunia, Lubumbashi, and Kinshasa, MAF supports the work of medical teams, mission groups, development agencies and others seeking to share the gospel and improve conditions in isolated parts of the DRC. Worldwide, MAF serves in 37 countries with more than 125 airplanes.