More than 3,000 people have fled into Northern Zambia within the past month to escape the growing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
The UNHCR said increased inter-ethnic violence in the DRC provinces of Haut-Katanga and Tanganyika, and clashes between Congolese security forces and militia groups, are driving civilians to cross the border.
“There was an earlier influx of which we spoke about some weeks ago, that was - over a day we have seen 500 arrivals in 24 hours and at that point we have deployed additional staff to that area,” UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told VOA News. “But, I want to underline there are huge logistical challenges given the remoteness of the area and access.”
Most of the refugees arriving in Zambia are escaping “extreme brutality, with civilians being killed, women raped, property looted, and houses set alight,” Mahecic said.
According to Mahecic, the majority of the arrivals are children who are showing signs of malnutrition.
“Malaria, respiratory problems, dysentery and skin infections are common among the refugees, who are now in urgent need of protection and life-saving support,” he said.
DRC has about 3.7 million internally displaced people (who are driven from their homes but remain within the country’s borders), Al-Jazeera News reported.
More than 992,000 were displaced last year according to a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council's Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). This is the highest number in the world of internally displaced people registered in 2016, placing the country ahead of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.
The UNHCR spokesman told VOA News they’re working with the Zambia government and Red Cross providing aid for people.
Twenty-three years of armed conflict due to political turmoil in the Congo, as well as other internal conflicts, have disrupted the lives of civilians, forcing them to flee or become displaced in their war-torn countries.
The number of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people around the world have topped 65 million. As of December 2015, there were 63.5 million displaced people, according to a report from the UN Refugee Agency.
According to the study, three countries produce half of the world’s refugees: Syria (4.9 million); Afghanistan (2.7 million); and Somalia (1.1 million). Colombia (6.9 million), Syria (6.6 million) and Iraq (4.4 million) had the largest numbers of internally displaced people.
“As wars spiral out of control we feel this must be a year to take collective responsibility and action to end the conflicts which force people to flee and also to help the millions of people whose lives have been destroyed by this violence,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a press release.