UN criticises DRC refugee camp dismantling

(Alain Wandimoyi, AP)
(Alain Wandimoyi, AP)

Kinshasa - The United Nations on Wednesday said it deplored the dismantling of a refugee camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), accusing local authorities of driving out thousands of vulnerable people.

UN humanitarian affairs monitor in the area, Rein Paulsen, said he deplored what appeared to be "collective punishment" for those in the camp at Mukoto, around 70km northwest of Goma, capital of North Kivu province.

Paulsen tweeted that the site had been "forcibly closed today. 4 260 people forced to move. Unacceptable."

"I regret the manner in which this dismantling was carried out and I am very concerned by the collective punishment imposed on these vulnerable displaced people," Paulsen added in a statement which noted the site had been "completely razed by the authorities."

Paulsen's office said the development had followed the discovery in the camp of a firearm a week ago.

Noting that humanitarian workers in the zone had therefore had little time to prepare, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it would seek to make "recommendations" to authorities to "avoid such abrupt [camp] closures as this" in future.

Berthe Zinga, who co-ordinates the DRC's National Commission of Refugees, told AFP that attempts by humanitarian organisations to keep the camp open had fallen on deaf ears.

"We had pleaded... but unfortunately the camp was closed," said Zinga.

No provincial authority spokesperson was available to comment on the move.

In December 2014, authorities closed nearby camp Kiwanja, holding around 2 300 people, with barely any warning after discovering six firearms as well as a number of other camps.

Those closures prompted UN officials to urge the government to respect "international humanitarian law" in a war-ravaged country which last September counted some 1.6 million displaced persons, including around 6 000 in North Kivu province.

Elections are due later this year but political tensions run high and last Monday the UN said 7.5 million people - nine percent of the population - were in need of humanitarian aid including food.

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