The United Nations has warned that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is facing a “humanitarian disaster of extraordinary proportions”, as violence and mass displacement is rapidly rising in the country’s southeast.
A spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Monday that entrenched intercommunal conflict between several ethnic groups in Tanganyika province was “triggering spiraling displacement and human rights abuses”.
“Moreover, fierce clashes between the Congolese armed forces and militias have continued since the end of January, while new armed groups threaten to wreak more havoc in the province,” Andrej Mahecic said in a statement.
The surge in violence in Tanganyika – an area that is home to about three million people – was largely between the Twa, Luba and other ethnic groups.
It comes amid more than 800 reported human rights abuses in the province over the first two weeks of February alone.
“People fleeing for their lives near the provincial capital Kalemie share stories of horrific violence during attacks against their villages, including killings, abductions and rape,” Mahecic said.
Increasing conflict and a dire humanitarian situation in the DRC forced 1.7 million people to flee their homes last year alone.
Also this week, two humanitarian aid workers were killed.
Throughout 2017, more than 12,000 reports of human rights violations in Tanganyika and the nearby area of Haut Katanga were documented, the UN also said.
The number of people who fled their homes in Tanganyika nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017, rising from 370,000 in December 2016 to 630,000 at the end of last year, according to the latest figures.
A UNHCR spokesperson told Al Jazeera the violence is “one of the most severe and one of the most worrying” localised conflicts in the DRC.
“It’s a crisis which has been gradually increasing with growing hatred between ethnic groups,” Andreas Kirchhof said.
Ethnic violence between the Bantu and Twa ethnic groups has intensified since mid-2016.
The International Rescue Committee said more than 400 villages were destroyed between July 2016 and March 2017 as a result of the conflict.
As of last October, UNHCR reported the DRC was home to 3.9 million internally displaced persons, while more than 600,000 Congolese refugees had sought refuge in more than 11 other African countries.