He was speaking in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, on the first day of his visit to the country, representing the Secretary-General, António Guterres.
Mr. Lacroix held different discussions with provincial authorities of Ituri and North Kivu and reiterated the need for the international community and other regional partners to support the DRC in providing security for the displaced people, including in Ituri province where recurring attacks from the CODECO militias in Djugu territory have left hundreds of people dead and thousands internally displaced.
Local security is a top priority
Mr. Lacroix visited a UN site in Djugu territory of Ituri that is hosting 74,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and listened to representatives of communities living on the site, who appealed for various things from the UN – and the Government – as the DRC’s Minister for Defense, Gilbert Kabanda, was accompanying the UN peacekeeping chief.
Defence Minister Kabanda promised that within one month, more Congolese troops will be deployed to the villages where the IDPs had fled, so that security can be fully restored and infrastructure, such as schools and health facilities, could be built.
One of the representatives of the people, Pilo Mulindro Willy, who is Chief of Bulkwa, raised the issue of security as a top priority, both at the site in the town of Roe as well as in the villages. “I asked the Government to disarm these armed groups as they are disturbing our people. Villagers want to return home so that they could continue with farming,” he stressed.
“We want the Government to send more troops to protect our villages.,” he said, adding that the promised one month is too long to wait for troops to come and secure the area.
The Minister acknowledged that the site at Roe was not safe as there are not enough troops from the Congolese military to protect civilians.
Women ask for special protection
Among the women representatives that Mr. Lacroix met was Beatrice Manyotsi who told UN News in an interview after the meeting that they need lasting solutions to the problems of insecurity.
“We appreciate the encounter we had with the United Nations today as it is a long time that we had such an opportunity. We truly appreciate it because such a meeting could bring about lasting solutions to problems that we are facing in DRC in general and Ituri in particular,” said Ms. Manyotsi.
She went on to highlight specific challenges women face, including of violence and death. “We Congolese women are living in difficult conditions, women are being killed, mutilated, we are like objects that have no value to anyone. No education for our children. We want our United Nations to assist us in this area because our children are the Congolese of tomorrow. They are the ones who will take charge. If they are living in pathetic conditions in the IDP’s site, for example, the future of our country will be in jeopardy.”
Ms. Manyotsi supported the appeal from the Chief of Bulkwa that security must be given priority, “We can neither go farming nor looking for firewood and drinking water as we are being threatened by the armed groups.”
According to UN officials, the wave of violent attacks in the Ituri area since November 2021 has resulted an increase in the number of IDPs at the site of Roe, leading to the rapid saturation of the facilities there.
Humanitarian needs are high
There is a dire lack of infrastructure and basic services for the displaced persons, leading many to settle in public spaces, with others hosted in precarious conditions by host families. Currently, displaced people do not have access to shelter, food, healthcare, and psychosocial assistance. Newly displaced people lack basic shelter and basic items, putting additional pressure on IDPs that were on-site before the last six months.
Sanitation and hygiene are critical due to the lack of WASH facilities, increasing the risk of a surge in deadly epidemics.
We are in solidarity with the Congolese people
After a 15-minute flight from the Roe site to Bunia, Mr. Lacroix traveled to Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province, where he held discussions with the military Governor, Lieutenant General Ndima Constant.
The UN peacekeeping chief reiterated United Nations’ solidarity with the Congolese people.
“The Secretary-General is sending his message about our determination to work tirelessly with national, local, military, police authorities and civil as well as our common determination to see the local population benefits from our humanitarian plea and security efforts,” said Mr. Lacroix, adding that his visit has showcased the cordial relations between the United Nations and provincial authorities.
On the protection of civilians in Goma, Mr. Lacroix cited a great collaboration that has been established between the Congolese armed forces, FARDC, and one of DR Congo’s neighbors, saying, “I think such determined efforts bear fruits, but we all understand it takes time, that’s why we United Nations have to repeat every time our calls and engage. You might be determined and at the same time understand that it is not a problem that could be resolved in certain weeks or months.”
On 17 February, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the humanitarian community launched an $1.88 billion appeal to implement the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, aiming at providing aid to 8.8 million vulnerable people.
On Thursday, Mr Lacroix will be in the DR Congo capital, Kinshasa, to represent the UN Secretary-General at the Summit of the Regional Oversight Mechanism, (ROM) of the Addis Ababa Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region.