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UNHCR Reports that 300,000 People Fled Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Last Month

In February, fierce battles between government forces and non-state armed groups caused a new humanitarian crisis, which saw 300,000 people becoming displaced from their homes in North Kivu Province.

A family displaced is forced to live in a temporary camp in Plain Savo, DRC.

Hélène Caux/UNHCR

Last week, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported that an additional 20,000 people had left their homes and close to 50,000 became internally displaced in the Kitchanga area of Masisi territory in a single week in mid-February.

At least 36 people were killed last week during an overnight attack in the eastern village of Mukondi. The terrorists responsible were the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an ISIL-friendly Ugandan armed group in DRC.

Matthew Saltmarsh, UNHCR spokesperson, stated that civilians, including women and children, have to bear the great and tragic cost of conflict, having barely managed to flee the violence and now being forced to sleep in the open in either organized or impromptu camps, exhausted and suffering from trauma.

The UNHCR spokesperson continued, saying that teams in the regions had reported "horrifying testimonies of human rights violations in affected areas" particularly in Rutshuru and Masisi. These included such atrocities as murder, kidnapping, extortion, and rape.

The UNHCR has also noted the serious challenges in areas where refugees are coming in either spontaneously or in an organized way; these sites are overwhelmed and cannot cope with the situation.

Since March 2020, over 800,000 persons have been forced to flee their homes due to the escalation of violence in the eastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with some of those going to the provinces of South Kivu and Ituri.

Displaced individuals in Plain Savo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were presented with relief items.

At the boundary of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, over 130 militias are present, one of which is the M23 militia known to have previously attacked both government troops and the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO.

Last week, a ceasefire agreement was brokered for the M23 and was set to become active on Tuesday, however, it has yet to be implemented.


The violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be traced back to the mid-1990s, when the First Congo War began. This conflict was sparked by Hutu refugees from Rwanda crossing the border due to the genocide.

The government of the Congo was not able to suppress or overpower these various militia groups, some of which even caused trouble in neighboring countries, and war was ultimately declared.

From 1998 to 2003, the Second Congo War was waged by military forces of Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe against rebel forces supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Reports of the death toll from this conflict range from three million people to considerably higher numbers.

Despite a peace agreement in 2002 and the establishment of a provisional government the following year, persistent violence against civilians due to weak political and institutional frameworks and rampant corruption continues to plague the eastern region.

In the aftermath of the war, one of the most notable rebel forces that surfaced was the March 23 Movement (M23), composed mainly of Tutsi ethnicities that were allegedly backed by the Rwandan government. M23 had taken up arms against the Congolese government over claims that a 2009 peace agreement had not been upheld.

The UN Security Council authorized a MONUSCO (UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC) offensive brigade to assist the Congolese state army in battling M23.

The Congolese army and UN peacekeepers triumphed over the group in 2013, yet other militant factions have since emerged.

However, the UN peacekeepers have not been angels throughout this conflict as they have killed hundreds of civilians throughout the years, including at least 8 deaths and 28 injuries as recently as last month during a resupply mission.

Resource War & Western Complicity

The DRC is abundant in resources, with an estimated $24 trillion in untapped minerals, yet this wealth is also a major source of violence. Armed groups use the proceeds of the mineral sale to finance their operations and purchase arms.

The US took action in 2010 to limit the purchase of "conflict minerals" and prevent further funding of the militias, however, due to the complex supply chains, it has been difficult for companies to obtain certification.

As a consequence, numerous multinational companies have stopped buying from the DRC, leaving many miners jobless and forcing some to join the armed groups for survival.

Let’s be real.

American companies will still find ways to procure cheap materials at some point throughout the supply chain from their Chinese partners who own the Congolese Cobalt mines. They are corporations, not charities.

They’re interested in cheap labor, cheap materials, and high profits so they don’t particularly care about the ethics of cobalt mining.

Our global economy runs on raw materials harvested from the Congo. Whether it’s Apple, Tesla, Microsoft, or another major MNC, cobalt-powered lithium-ion batteries are used in all your favorite smartphones, household electronics, and electric vehicles (EVs).

Women and children are forced to work in cobalt mines for dozens of hours, some literally for 24 hours straight, to excavate cobalt for smartphone batteries.

In fact, EVs currently face a significant supply chain risk in the short and medium term due to cobalt, which is the most critical raw material. Each 100-kilowatt hour (kWh) pack of EV batteries can contain as much as 20 kilograms of cobalt.

Prolonged interstate violence, widespread child labor, and acute labor exploitation likely have something to do with supply chain disruption.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been facing numerous issues due to a lack of governance, such as sexual violence, human rights violations, and poverty.

International forces, including the African Union, United Nations, and neighboring countries, have been trying to counteract the threats made by rebel groups and strive to create sustainable development.

If this violence persists, it could possibly spread to countries closely tied to the U.S., such as Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda.

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