Displaced by fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s east, thousands of civilians now have been forced to seek shelter in camps in the country’s Tanganyika Province.
Many of the women at Kalemie camp may have sought shelter here but they remain anxious, not knowing the whereabouts of their children kidnapped by militias who attacked their villages.
“When they take our children, they rape the girls and cut them in small pieces with machetes. There is no hope, I will never see my daughter again,” said Augustine Mwamba Feza, a displaced mother.
I am in pain, my heart is hurting. I can't sleep. My body's in pain. Life is hopeless. Who will get my children back for me?
Displaced civilians in Tanganyika province, have shared stories of horrific violence including killings, abductions and rapes carried out as their villages came under attack.
Over 13 million Congolese need humanitarian aid, twice as many as last year, and 7.7 million face severe food insecurity, according to a U.N. report in March, as militia violence spikes across much of the country’s eastern borderlands.
Humanitarian officials from foreign donors and aid agencies have repeatedly said that the crisis is worsening and that the country’s needs are well short of being met.
Congo’s government rejects that the humanitarian situation is getting worse. It says it only recognizes about 231,000 internally displaced Congolese compared with U.N. estimates of around 4.3 million, 19 times higher.
More and more children are being reported missing as the displacement crisis worsens.
The number of missing children remains unknown, but humanitarian workers say that there are thousands of cases.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR and its partners are working to help identify unaccompanied and separated children, so that they can be better protected and eventually reunited with their families.
“I am in pain, my heart is hurting. I can’t sleep. My body’s in pain. Life is hopeless. Who will get my children back for me?” said Elizabeth Majuma Ngoy, a displaced Congolese.
Fifty-two-year-old Ndiba Kaité counts herself among the lucky few.
Her five teenage daughters were kidnapped in December 2016 and held captive for five months in the bush, where they were starved, beaten and abused.
Ndiba led a desperate search to find her missing children, with help from aid groups; she was able to negotiate their release.
“When I found them they were in a bad state. They were so thin. Their feet were wounded. Their skin had changed. Their eyes were filled with sadness. But the day I found my children, I was happy,” she said.
The crisis in the DRC’s perpetually volatile east- where conflict, hunger and disease killed millions in civil wars around the turn of the century, has been further fueled by President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down when his constitutional mandate expired in 2016.
Kabila denies clinging to power and said elections have been delayed because of logistical problems.