As rebels occupy the Congolese town of Goma, the Catholic aid agency CAFOD has pledged £100,000 to support people fleeing to safety from the conflict.
Rebel group the M23 entered the town of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday morning, 20 November 2012, taking control of the airport.
Reports on the ground indicate that tens of thousands of people are fleeing, and hundreds are taking refuge in church buildings.
Deputy director of Caritas Goma Fr Arsene Masumbuko has been at the heart of calls for dialogue as the solution to DRC’s cycle of conflict.
He declared: “Thousands of people need help in my home of Goma and more than 50,000 will need help over the coming days. Caritas Goma, with the help of organisations like CAFOD, is working right now to get non-food items to people in need – tents, cooking utensils, blankets, soap and so on. With partners we will also be providing food and water. We are staying in Goma so we can help the community and the people who need us.”
The M23 is led by two former Congolese army commanders. Fighters belonging to an ex-rebel group, the CNDP, had joined the government army as part of a peace deal in 2009 but defected earlier this year.
Clashes have been ongoing since President Joseph Kabila announced that he would try to arrest one of the commanders, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for recruiting child soldiers.
Church leaders in eastern DRC say that without urgent international attention, the region could once again descend into full blown war.
Fr Masumbuko added: “The people of Congo have suffered repeatedly over many years. They are living in misery and fear, they are helpless, and they feel abandoned. Do not think we are not aware of the problems of the country: the problem of civil protection, social problems, corruption; but we do not want another war and war will not resolve these problems."
He continued: “All parties, all people, must now decide – do we continue with the logic of war or the logic of peace. The Church stands by its constant argument that the solution is dialogue, dialogue between all parties - with the M23 and the international community at the table."
“Instability in DRC is more than instability in one country – if we want peace in this whole region, we must negotiate security and stability for DRC. The instability in my country affects the whole region – it is at its heart. The people have had enough of repeated wars, they want an end to this misery," said the Caritas Goma deputy director.
“The Church right now is shoulder-to-shoulder with the people; we walk in solidarity with them; and this is not just today, but it was yesterday and it will be tomorrow. We will try to bring hope to those who are feeling no hope and we will continue to work for dialogue between all sides. We urge all our brothers and sisters in Britain to join us, and to pray for the peace we need,” he concluded.
With tens of thousands of people fleeing, many are likely to need shelter, water and food as they seek safety. The situation remains extremely volatile, and CAFOD has pledged £100,000 to support local Church partners as they respond to the crisis.
CAFOD’s Country Representative in DRC, Bernard Balibuno, commented: “The humanitarian situation is critical. Thousands of people are fleeing their homes and camps. More than 15,000 people from the Kibumba camp north of Goma have been forced to leave because of the fighting, and are fleeing south towards the towns of Mugunga and Sake with many of Goma’s residents."
“For many previously displaced by fighting, this will be the fourth or fifth time they have had to flee in the last two years. Our long-term partner Caritas Goma has estimated that more than 50,000 people will be in need of humanitarian aid in the coming days. CAFOD is ready to respond to any needs as they arise, alongside our partners Caritas Goma, Caritas Gisenyi and Caritas Bukavu,” said Mr Balibuno.
CAFOD has been working in the DRC since 1995, following the Rwanda genocide, responding to emergencies and helping people to rebuild their lives after the civil war.
In 2008 the CAFOD appeal responding to the Congo crisis raised more than £2.4 million to support people in the east of the country who had been displaced by an upsurge in fighting.
* To donate to the Eastern Congo Crisis appeal: http://www.cafod.org.uk/Give/Donate-to-Emergencies/Eastern-Congo-Crisis