One of our Observers traveled to the Mugunga refugee camp near the city of Goma, the largest city of North Kivu. Tens of thousands of Congolese fleeing the violence in this eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo have taken refuge there. However, the violence has caught up with them.
Mugunga, situated about a dozen kilometres west of Goma, is a city of white tents pitched directly into the soil. More than 90,000 people live there, divided up in three camps: Mugunga I, Mugunga II, and Mugunga III. The camps’ residents have fled the clashes between various armed factions that have wreaked havoc in this region for the past two decades.
Last January, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calculated that there were more than 2.2 million internally displaced persons inside the DR Congo. But the people living inside refugee camps, which are run by international organisations, are not necessarily safe from harm. In early December, armed men attacked Mugunga III to loot the little possessions and food that the refugees owned. At least six women were raped. Doctors Without Borders stated that it recorded 95 cases of sexual violence in the months of December and January in this same camp.
In DR Congo, rape has become a weapon of war. Around 5,000 women have been raped in North Kivu since January 2012, according to the organisation Heal Africa. This horrendous figure is linked to the renewed instability in the region and to the rise to power of new armed groups, including the M23 and the Maï-Maï of the Patriotic Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS). Government soldiers, known as the FARDC, are often also accused of rape. On March 27, the UN Under-Secretary General for peace missions, Hervé Ladsous, gave the Congolese government an ultimatum to compel it to punish two FARDC battalions that allegedly committed 126 rapes in November 2012.
“The rapists are nearly always men in uniform”
Charly Kasereka is a journalist and a blogger. He recently traveled to the Mugunga camps to report on the problems faced by the refugees living there, in particular the women.
I met women who told me of rape cases, both inside and outside the camp. Women are sometimes raped when they leave the camp to find firewood in the nearby Virunga Park. Recently, two women were kidnapped and raped. They only returned to the camp after three days. [Contacted by FRANCE 24, the UNHCR in Goma confirmed these attacks, and explained that the presence of the national Congolese police is not sufficient to protect the refugees from harm].Our Observer Charly Kasereka interviewed women at Mugunga camp (in French). One of the women explains: "I had my child when I was 15 years old. To feed him, I try to seduce men. Sometimes, they give me 5 dollars. I only do this to feed my child."The rapists are nearly always men in uniform. In several cases, they have been members of the FARDC that the government positioned around the different refugee camps near Goma to safeguard them. Other victims said they were raped by soldiers from the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda).A few weeks ago, a two-year-old girl was raped only a few metres from the camp. The perpetrator was arrested: he was a young man from Goma.Prostitution is also very common. I met women who have had to prostitute themselves in order to feed their children. With the 2,000 CFA francs (less than 2 euros) that they were able to earn from each transaction, they bought milk. Their “clients” pay them with money they earn by selling their own food rations.There is a real food problem in Mugunga. The distribution of food rations is supposed to happen every month, but sometimes it’s less frequent that that. The humanitarian organisations say that the food shipments are not delivered on time. A refugee woman I met even told me that the rations only last fifteen days or so. A parallel market is emerging, in which refugees sell their food rations in order to vary their diet or to buy other products, like firewood.