Though the ceasefire announced last month in the Democratic Republic of Congo appears to be still holding, all is far from well there. There continue to be many reports of the kidnapping, raping and killing of civilians, both by the rebels and by government troops. Refugee camps are fast filling up with people who fled from Goma and neighbouring towns during the worst weeks of the violence. In the brief account below, however, Gerry Clarke SJ (pictured here with … reports on the immense good which the NGOs are doing in the region. Specifically he describes how the Jesuit Refugee Service is helping in the rehabilitation of the victims.
Responding to immediate needs: the JRS in DR Congo
Gerry Clarke SJ
Sexual and gender-based violence has always been a weapon of war but never more so than in Eastern Congo over the last decade. Victims of the conflict between rebel general Laurent Nkunda and the Congolese Government stream to the Camps around Goma, Provincial capital of the Eastern province of North Kivu and receive medical help from some of the major Non-Governmental Humanitarian Organisations. The Jesuit Refugee Service is there too, hoping to lend a hand in the rehabilitation of victims.
We’ve taken on three local personnel as a first step towards meeting the needs of victims of violence. Their job is to assess the needs and find out how JRS can respond. It seems that while victims’ medical needs are met, some very practical things are not being done. For instance, displaced people depend on NGO handouts for food sustenance, and where these are thin or non-existent victims cannot comfortably or healthily continue medication. “You can’t take tablets on an empty stomach” says Fred Kahunde, Project researcher with JRS Goma. And the long term follow-up is really important too. Another need identified at a brainstorming meeting with NGOs last week is the development of income-generating activities: tailoring, bread-baking, soap-making and hair-dressing are all activities which are fairly easily learned and can increase a refugee’s income.
The hope is that a stronger and more efficient United Nations task force can bring the rebels into line – although sadly it’s often the case that the National Army are the problem. People here say that the Congolese Army can be more dangerous in flight than in attack. When routed by the rebel forces (as they frequently are) they turn on the local population and help themselves to the contents of shops and houses. There’s plenty of evidence to show that they are responsible for sexual and gender-based violence too.
Lots to do here at Jesuit Refugee Service, Goma.
The Jesuit Mission Office in Dublin reports: Fr. Frido Pflueger SJ, Regional Director of JRS Eastern Africa, visited our office from Nairobi and stayed with us in Gardiner St. community this week. Frido is taking back some family Christmas gifts for Gerry Clarke who works with JRS in Goma, Eastern Congo. Gerry has been on the phone with us and he is in good form amidst the crisis of Eastern Congo where security of the people and access to those in greatest need continues to be a problem.