A consignment of 25 tons of aid bound for the Democratic Republic of Congo. The $250,000 (£172,000) worth of aid includes water and sanitation equipment and plastic sheeting and is enough for more than 30,000 people.  Credit: Ian Bray/Oxfam
We've managed to start trucking water into the region, but insecurity restricts our ability to help.

Oxfam demands France, Germany and UK face up to the humanitarian crisis in Congo and get behind European 'bridging force'

“EU leaders have to face up to the stark choice before them. Failure to do so means armed men go on murdering.”
Elise Ford
Head of Oxfam's EU Advocacy Office, Brussels
Published: 3 December 2008

International agency Oxfam today accuses European member states of turning their backs on the suffering of the people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The crisis in DRC is horrendous for hundreds of thousands of people displaced due to the unabated violence and agencies are finding it extremely difficult to get aid to those in need.

Oxfam urges European governments, particularly France, Germany and the UK who have the capacity to lead the way, to ensure the swift deployment of a peacekeeping force to provide greater protection for people in desperate need now.

The UN Security Council recently agreed that the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC needed a further 3,000 troops, but it will take up to six months for them to be deployed. The EU has the ability to deploy a force which could provide greater protection for civilians now, until the MONUC reinforcements arrive.

“Oxfam is extremely disappointed by the unwillingness of European governments to provide a temporary peacekeeping mission to DRC. Member states must live up to their responsibility to protect civilians caught up in fighting and they must do it now. EU leaders have to face up to the stark choice before them. Failure to do so means armed men go on murdering, raping and looting indiscriminately and the enormous suffering in DRC continues.” said Elise Ford, head of Oxfam's EU office in Brussels.

Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in DRC said: “Just because the media spotlight is no longer so focussed on the crisis in North Kivu does not mean that the humanitarian catastrophe has abated. The people here cannot wait six months for further protection.

“The fighting goes on between the different factions, there are still large numbers of armed men across the region terrorising local people, and thousands of Congolese people are still being forced to flee their homes every day.

“The EU governments are turning their back on the tens of thousands of vulnerable people in need of urgent protection. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen.”

Fighting in the Masisi area, 60km from the North Kivu capital Goma, over the last two days, has forced thousands of people to abandon their homes and aid agencies to evacuate the main town.

An upsurge in violence in the border town of Ishasha, over the weekend led to 13,000 more civilians fleeing into Uganda.

The humanitarian situation is alarming in the major town of Kanyabayonga, 150km north of Goma, where the 60,000-strong population was forced to flee two weeks ago when armed men went on the rampage, looting and raping. Oxfam has managed to start trucking water into the region, but the insecurity in the whole region means aid agencies cannot work in the town for more than two hours a day before having to retreat to safer areas once it gets dark.

“About half of the people in Kanyabayonga are still spending their nights in the bush because they are afraid of being robbed or raped in their homes. The number of armed men in the area means the people risk their lives just to grow, buy or sell the food they need to survive,” said Martin Hartberg, Oxfam's protection advisor.

Meanwhile, people living in and around the two Kibati camps, a few kilometers north of Goma, are under a constant threat of violence, rape and looting due to large numbers of armed men in the vicinity.

An Oxfam survey makes clear that the people in these camps are menaced on a daily basis by armed men. People in the camps are also afraid of being caught in the crossfire should fighting break out again.

“France which currently holds the EU presidency has already shown strong political commitment by helping to persuade the UN Security Council to authorize MONUC to deploy more troops on the ground. But the people in North Kivu urgently need greater protection now and some EU member states are willing to provide it. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner must now mobilize the political will that is so urgently needed and gain agreement for the swift deployment of a peacekeeping force,” said Nicolas Vercken, Oxfam conflict advocacy officer in Paris.