More than 12 000 people fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo have poured into Zambia this year, the United Nations said on Friday, warning that aid operations there were “hugely underfunded”.
DRC’s huge eastern region has long been wracked by violence, but fighting between government soldiers and militia groups, as well as inter-ethnic clashes, has increased significantly in 2017.
The UN refugee agency warned that the unrest was causing a growing influx of people seeking safety in neighbouring Zambia.
“The number of refugees fleeing militia violence in south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and arriving in Zambia has crossed the 12 000 mark, with more than 8 400 arrivals in the last three months,” UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva.
The refugees have been “driven out by the extreme brutality of rampaging militias, with reports of civilians being killed, women being raped, private property looted and houses torched,” he said.
Many refugees had warned that fighting on the ground was intensifying and that even more people would likely flee the conflict-torn region, Baloch said, pointing out that 4.1 million people remain displaced inside DRC.
Baloch cautioned that Zambia’s Kenani Transit Centre was currently hosting more than 8 000 refugees, and was filled to maximum capacity.
He said that Zambia has made more land available for a new site, but that UNHCR and its partners were “in urgent need of resources to develop the new site”.
They also needed more funds to help provide refugees with life-saving assistance, including food, shelter, water and sanitation and access to health services, he said.
Baloch said aid operations in DRC and Zambia were “hugely underfunded.”
Less than a quarter of the $236.2m required to provide aid to refugees, internally displaced people and others in DRC this year has so far materialised, while only $13.6m of the $54.6m needed in Zambia has been received, UNHCR said.
Zambia currently hosts a total of 33 000 refugees from DRC, according to UN numbers.