DRC: More civilians flee advance of ruthless M23 rebels in North Kivu

This photo shows a makeshift camp in Kanyaruchinya, near Goma, in early November.
This photo shows a makeshift camp in Kanyaruchinya, near Goma, in early November. © Goma Actif

The sudden resurgence and advance of the M23 rebel group have spread panic amongst the people of North Kivu, a province in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At least 50,000 people fled their homes between October 20 and November 1, according to a statement by the United Nations. Displaced civilians, primarily women and children, have been gathering in makeshift camps on the outskirts of Goma. Our Observers say there is a desperate need for more humanitarian assistance.


On October 20, the March 23 Movement (M23), a rebel group largely made up of people from the Tutsi ethnic group, launched an offensive against the Congolese army and captured a large swathe of territory in Rutshuru, including the towns of Rutshuru Centre and Kiwanja.

“Both towns had been harbouring many of the 186,000 displaced people who had fled resurgent fighting between M23 and Congolese forces over the past few months, reported Human Rights Watch

'Most of these people are fleeing for the second time'

Many families are on the run again, says our Observer Emilien (not his real name), who is based in Goma, the capital of the province of North Kivu:  

There are displaced people everywhere. In the far north of North Kivu province, towards Lubero, Butembo, and in the south, here in Goma. Unfortunately, most of these people are fleeing for the second time. And we don't know if it will be the final time: maybe there will be a third time, a fourth time. 

It is a great misfortune for the population, which is mainly farmers, who have abandoned everything. There is not enough help for these displaced people: the Congolese government has done nothing so far and the humanitarian organisations are overwhelmed. Above all, it is difficult because we are still in total instability. We don't know how the situation will evolve. 

The military government of North Kivu made their first food aid delivery to the displaced people living in camps outside of Goma on November 1. The military governor, Lieutenant Constant Ndima, said that more than 30,000 people had signed up for aid.

'They told us that they heard shots and left when they saw their neighbours fleeing'

But there is much need in the camps, says Jerson Bubala Mandundu, the deputy coordinator of a humanitarian organisation called “Stop dépression”. Mandundu visits the displaced persons camps in Kanyaruchinya, on the outskirts of Goma, every week: 

There are many displaced persons and, every day, new families arrive and new rows spring up in the camp. Some people don’t even have any kind of shelter – we saw an entire family living under a mosquito net. There aren’t any toilets or any privacy. For several days, there wasn’t even running water. We started a project to install a water pump. There are pregnant women, children… the sanitary conditions are terrible. 

Our team has visited the camps three times. We are trying to gather the names of the displaced as well as other identifying information. There are lots of mothers there with their children. We brought 200 kg of rice to the camp and 100 barrels of drinking water. The lack of water is a real problem – disease will start to spread. 

Déplacés près de Goma en novembre 2022.
Déplacés près de Goma en novembre 2022. © Goma actif

Most of the people who we’ve met come from Rubare and Rutshuru. They told us that they heard shots and left when they saw their neighbors fleeing. 

The authorities in Goma have been asking people to stay and join the armed forces. We also met some young people who volunteered for the army. 

DePaul Bakul, who is a volunteer with a local organisation called Goma Actif, says that the situation is just as bad in the displaced persons sites in Kahembe, located in the Nyiragongo territory. Bakul says the people in these camps need just about everything:

We’ve been working to help the displaced people since Thursday last week [Editor’s note: November 3]. Many people have fled Bunagana, Rutshuru... We don’t have any exact numbers because the number of displaced people is growing day by day. 

There are currently nearly 5,000 families in Kahembe. The first thing we did was to bring bread and make porridge for the children. Our priority is to help elderly people, nursing mothers and children. We are very short on food. People are hungry. We are also lacking the material to meet people’s basic needs. We also need more housing, especially because it is currently the rainy season. 

“An urgent response from humanitarian actors is required to meet the huge needs of these people,” said humanitarian organisation Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in a statement published on November 8. 

“Kanyaruchinya was already hosting thousands of people displaced by previous rounds of fighting in the past few months and people affected by the May 2021 volcanic eruption,” the organisation added.  

'Vigilance groups' form to head off M23 advance

In a televised speech broadcast on November 3, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi called on young Congolese to form “vigilance groups” to head off the M23 advance. 

This tweet from the DRC Office of the President, in French, says: “President of the Republic, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, addresses the nation on this Thursday, November 3, 2022 through a televised radio address about the security situation in the East of the country.”

Two days later, during a press conference, the spokesperson for the military governor of North Kivu said that at least a thousand young people had responded to the president’s call and flooded recruitment centres in Goma. Videos shared on social media show volunteers starting to train.  

>> Read more on The Observers: Meet the young Congolese joining up to fight the M23 rebel group

This tweet, in French, says, “In #Goma in the province of North Kivu in the eastern part of the country. Young people started accelerated training on Friday, November 4 to defend the town against any attempt by the#enemy. They respond to Flx’s call.”

In late 2021, the M23, a rebel group made up largely of members of the Tutsi ethnic group, picked up weapons again – frustrated, they said, by the government’s failure to uphold agreements about the rehabilitation of former rebels. Tension has also grown between the DRC and neighbouring Rwanda: the DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting this rebellion, which Rwanda denies. On October 31, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate halt to the fighting and the retreat of M23 from occupied areas.