© Hugh Cunningham
InternationalDemocratic Republic of the CongoTestimonies

Civilians caught in the crossfire in the Kivus

On Friday, May 24, 2024

In 1 click, help us spread this information :

Marie Brun is an emergency coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Goma, in the province of North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. She provides an update on the intensification of fighting between several armed groups, including the M23, and the Congolese armed forces since the start of the year, and the consequences for civilians who are once again being forced to endure the violence.

Insecurity seems to be increasingly affecting the people already displaced in the Kivus, particularly around Goma. What is the situation?

Over the past two years, we have seen regular movements of people fleeing the fighting in North Kivu province and, more recently, in South Kivu. The many displaced individuals and families have mostly sought refuge in rudimentary camps on the outskirts of Goma, the capital of North Kivu.

In recent weeks, Goma has gradually been surrounded by several front lines, with between 600,000 and 1 million people displaced being crammed alongside the city’s two million residents. The concentration of armed men in and around the densely populated camps and the growing proximity of military positions to the displaced people has led to a general increase in the level of violence: civilians are caught in the crossfire between the different armed groups; and are wounded, killed, or become victims of crime and, in particular, of sexual violence.

In Goma, the displaced now find themselves in a similar situation to the one they had initially fled. They are in complete insecurity and have no way out. The camps for displaced persons must be respected by all parties to the conflict and fighting in the vicinity must stop.

This insecurity is compounded by extremely precarious living conditions. Displaced people are living in densely populated camps, in deplorable sanitary conditions without adequate access to water and sanitation services, in shelters made of plastic sheeting, on uneven ground made of volcanic rock. Access to drinking water and food is very difficult and unpredictable.

What is the impact of this violence on civilians?

According to our observations, heavy artillery fire in the camps around Goma has caused 23 deaths and 52 injuries since February 2024. According to the United Nations, at least 18 civilians, most of them women and children, died and 32 others were wounded in bombardments affecting several internally displaced persons (IDP) sites on the morning of May 3rd, alone.

Since the beginning of the year, we have observed crossfire and grenade explosions inside the camps, both day and night. We have recorded 24 incidents involving shellfire in or around the camps where we work, and MSF teams have received 101 non-life-threatening casualties, 70% of them civilians, at the Kyeshero hospital, transferred by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which treats the most serious weapon-wounded patients. We are also concerned that patients delay seeking care in fear of the associated security risks.

In the Shabindu, Rusayo and Elohim camps, we treated more than 1,700 new cases of sexual violence in April, 70% of which were perpetrated by weapons carriers. MSF is able to provide medical and psychological care to survivors, but there are very limited referral options for legal support, safe shelters and other protection services. While the majority of survivors of sexual

violence treated by our teams report having been raped while collecting firewood, we are also seeing an increasing number of assaults inside the camps. Cases of gang rape have also been reported.

Fighting has also resumed in Kibirizi, a reception and transit town for thousands of displaced persons located at the crossroads of several strategic axes in North Kivu. In May, violent fighting broke out in populated areas, both in towns and near fields, resulting in the destruction of infrastructure and vital resources, as well as an exodus of people once again displaced by the fighting. The number of cases of sexual violence has also soared, with a five-fold increase in the number of survivors of sexual violence treated in MSF-supported health facilities in Kibirizi and further south in the Bambo health zone.

With the intensification of hostilities on a new frontline since February, the exchange of fire and artillery is also regularly affecting civilians living in and around the town of Minova in South Kivu, where almost 200,000 people have taken refuge this year.

© Hugh Cunningham
© Hugh Cunningham

How does MSF continue to work in this context?

In North and South Kivu, our teams are working in a volatile security context, with difficulties in moving around and delivering humanitarian aid, and uncertain access to the health centres we support. Despite the medical and humanitarian nature of our response to this crisis, MSF staff have not been spared from acts of intimidation by armed men.

MSF has suspended its activities on several occasions, mainly because of clashes near the camps in Goma and around Minova. The road from South Kivu to Goma is currently blocked and supplies can only be delivered by boat from Lake Kivu, or offroad by motorbike. The fighting is also preventing supplies from Goma from reaching outlying areas where fighting is also raging. In Masisi territory, where MSF notably supports the Masisi and Mweso general hospitals, the medical teams have been receiving dozens of war-wounded since the beginning of the year, but for months road access has been extremely difficult and risky. This has hampered humanitarian operations, depriving people of vital humanitarian aid. As MSF, we remind all warring parties that in times of conflict, they are required to respect international humanitarian law and all protections afforded to civilians, health facilities, patients and medical staff.

© Hugh Cunningham
© Hugh Cunningham

Increase in violence affecting civilians: testimonies from residents of the
Shabindu IDP site, North Kivu

David Simwerayi, from Masisi, in front of his shelter, rebuilt after his previous one was destroyed by an explosive device in the Shabindu 

The bomb fell on April 6, 2024 at around 6:30pm. That evening, I was on my way home from church and my children were playing next to our shelter. We saw an aircraft-shaped device approaching us. But then we realized it wasn't a plane – it was a bomb. My little brother, who was sleeping in the  shelter, was slightly injured, but my brother-in-law was killed by the bomb in a gruesome way. He was cut in two. Several people in the neighborhood were injured. Since these tragic events, we have  received no assistance other than from MSF, who gave us tarpaulins, wire, and nails to rebuild our  shelters". 

© Joelle Kayembe/MSF
© Joelle Kayembe/MSF

Marie, 38, widow and mother of nine, standing outside the MSF clinic in Shabindu

I went to fetch wood with another woman in Virunga National Park. I needed wood to cook for my children. I couldn't let them starve. My husband is dead, so I took the risk of going into the park. On the way back, we came across two men in military uniform. They threatened us, then took us by force and raped us. My neighbor was bleeding after the act. For fear of catching diseases or becoming  pregnant, and as we had been sensitized by community relays, we decided to go straight to the clinic  where we received treatment. That was three weeks ago. This event continues to traumatize me. I talk  about this with other women. It helps me. It's like a support group for me, because we sing, we talk, we share our pain". 


Testimonies from South Kivu

My name is Marie-Thérèse, I am 80 years old. I had to flee so often that I lost memory of the different trips. My house was burned down. My village destroyed. Since then, I have been looking for a place to live in peace with my nine children and my grandchildren. During the exodus, while we were still in North Kivu, a bomb exploded in Sake. Four of my children died that day. The rest of the family fled here again. We arrived at Bugeri camp last December. Very weakened by the poor living conditions in the camp, my children often fell ill. I decided to send them to a foster family, where they can sleep sheltered from the rain. They come to visit me when they can.

At the camp, we displaced people go days without eating. We only have water and we go to sleep hungry. We lack food but also medicine, utensils, blankets, tarpaulins. We all want peace to return and everyone to return home."


© Hugh Cunningham
© Hugh Cunningham

My name is Mukeshimana Mbitse, I am 60 years old. I arrived at the Bugeri camp (South Kivu) on January 5, 2024. Before, I lived in the village in the Masisi territory (North Kivu) with my nine children and my husband.

One day while we were in the field, shots rang out. Scared, my husband rushed to our house to gather our children and pack some things. I also ran to him but when I arrived at our house I found him lying on the floor, bathed in his blood. It only took one bullet to take his life. Without thinking further, to protect our family, I had to flee. We walked to the town of Minova. There, we were told about a displaced persons camp where we could settle.

So that my children have a better chance of surviving, I decided to leave the five oldest ones with host families, spread across villages neighbouring Minova. The four youngest live with me. Here, we can't find anything to eat, so we sometimes steal vegetables from the fields. When the owners surprise us, we are caught and mistreated before being released. We go days and nights without eating anything. We are suffering a lot. I don't even have enough to build a shelter. When it rains we are beaten by the rain. We spend our nights under the stars."


Testimony of Luis Montiel, MSF head of mission in DRC

Our related news