Displaced families with their belongings at the border post of Chissanda in Dundo, near the border with DR Congo, in Angola | Photo: EPA/Ampe Rogerio
Displaced families with their belongings at the border post of Chissanda in Dundo, near the border with DR Congo, in Angola | Photo: EPA/Ampe Rogerio

The UN refugee agency has warned that thousands of refugees and internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk due to a lack of funds needed to support them amid conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Massive funding gaps are threatening hundreds of thousands of lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where surging violence and COVID-19 are exacerbating already dire conditions for millions of forcibly displaced people, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement released on Tuesday.

UNHCR warned that without an urgent injection of cash, underfunding could have a devastating impact on critical lifesaving humanitarian programs. "Our activities to assist and protect the refugees and the displaced are only 20% funded of the US$168 million needed," the agency said. "This gap is seriously undermining our response to bring aid to the multiple humanitarian emergencies, leaving many vulnerable without food, water, shelter, health and hygiene facilities amid a rapid spread of COVID-19 across the country."

According to the UNHCR, the DRC has Africa’s largest internal displacement situation. 10% of the global number of internally displaced people can be found there, after repeated cycles of conflict. "Over the past few months, hundreds of thousands more people have been displaced in eastern and northern DRC following brutal attacks by various armed groups, intercommunal violence and natural disasters," the agency explained.

The country also hosts over half a million refugees – mainly from Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan.

COVID-19 pandemic heightening risks

According to UNHCR, the situation in DRC has long been tense, but the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse.

"While the overall humanitarian situation [in DRC] remains alarming, UNHCR is forced to make difficult choices that result in many of those in dire need not getting the assistance they require. We are working to help the most vulnerable to the extent possible, minimum standards in health, water and sanitation, education and other basic needs are often hard to meet with limited resources available for all populations,'' the agency said.

The outbreak of COVID-19 further aggravates the risks faced by displaced families. These people are unable to return home due to the ongoing violence, and often live in overcrowded displacement sites or with impoverished host families. Many can not take the measures recommended to avoid a coronavirus infection: Their living situation does not allow for social distancing, and there is also limited access to water, sanitation systems and health facilities.

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