Families seeking refuge from Islamist violence arrived July 9 in Boga, a town of about 30,000 people in the northeast Democratic Republic of Congo. They came from villages fewer than 10 miles away. Some carried personal belongings or brought goats and chickens they had snagged while on the move.
Other refugees from the village of Bwakadi arrived in Boga the same week after fleeing similar attacks. William Bahemuka Mugenyi, the Anglican bishop of a diocese in Boga, said the village now hosts about 10,000 refugees from around the region. They live with host families and inside school buildings and churches that have closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “They use dry banana leaves, lay it down with a mat or cloth,” Mugenyi said, adding that the church community has collected beans and other food for those in need.
Insurgent attacks and ethnic unrest has intensified in the Ituri province on Congo’s northeastern border with Uganda. As violence displaces more people across the province, Christians and aid groups are calling for peace and increased security to ensure the safety of civilians.
The July 6 assault on Bwakwadi killed 13 people and seriously injured at least two others. In a string of attacks across the villages of Kyamata, Busio, Mugwanga, Mitembo, and Malibongo, Islamic extremists abducted about 20 people and stole some 250 cows. Locals blamed the violence on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist insurgent group that began in Uganda but has spread into Congo.
Another armed group known as Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (Codeco) has also stepped up attacks in the area after the army killed its leader in March. Most Codeco fighters are from the Lendu ethnic community, and they mainly target Hema villages. Relations between the two ethnic groups have had a long, tense history since Belgian colonial leaders appointed the Hema to top economic and administrative positions. Codeco is suspected of carrying out an attack in Sindani-Akesi that left 25 people dead on July 8.
The terror attacks and ethnic conflicts in the region have displaced nearly 200,000 people since April, according to a June report from Doctors Without Borders. Alex Wade, the group’s mission leader in the province, said the insurgents targeted at least five health facilities in May and burned down more than 200 homes in the village of Wadda. “Many people are living in constant terror of being attacked in an area where the humanitarian needs are sharply increasing,” he said.
Suspected ADF insurgents attacked Boga in August of last year, looting shops and a mission hospital and abducting 200 Christians. Mugenyi said several of the captives escaped and others were released, but about 20 remain with their captors, including a woman who worked in the region’s education department and her 3-year-old nephew. “[The insurgents] were calling and asking for ransom and the family would pay but they would not release them,” he said.
In a report this month, the International Crisis Group urged the government to resume talks with militia groups and foster dialogue between the ethnic communities to find a long-term solution. Mugenyi said the communities only want “peace to run their lives without being terrorized by armed groups.”