Rwanda marks this week 20 years since the genocide took place, a painful memory not just for the country but for the whole international community. The motto Never Again a powerful reminder for the nation torn apart by violence.
Following my first visit to DRC I spent time with friends in Kigali and visited the genocide museum. A sobering experience I left the displays angry and distressed, and still unable to understand how and why. The final display in the museum documents other genocides in history; the holocaust, the Balkans, Darfur. Atrocities that are still taking place today.
A month later I travelled to the Central African Republic where the people there told me stories of brutalities and violent attacks on their families that I could only barely comprehend. Fears of reprisal and further violence between the opposing groups has divided communities and fostered fear and mistrust along both ethnic and religious lines. Again, those feelings of anger and distress resurfaced.
Now back in DRC once again I will travel to Goma this week, a city which was filled with refugees twenty years ago and is still surrounded by camps of displaced people two decades later. Just over the border in Rwanda the genocide memorial services will be a sobering occasion, but the daily reality in Eastern DRC is just as sobering.
Since 1998, 5.4 million people (equivalent to the entire population of Finland) have died in DRC as a result of the conflict. More than 90% of these died due to the conditions of their displacement, living in crowded and unsanitary conditions in camps. Of this number 47% were children.
In December 2013, the number of internally displaced people in DRC was an estimated 2.96 million. Over 90% are in eastern DRC (figures from MSF 2014). Many of these displaced are living out in the open with little protection from the elements, forced to leave their homes and possessions multiple times due to the conflict. Many live in poor conditions in camps where insecurity is rife and women and children are most at risk of attack.
The situation in Eastern DRC has been called a ‘Silent Crisis’. Twenty years ago the international community was silent for too long. Let us not remain silent any longer.