Postcard from…Goma

goma

“You have the right to receive all the assistance [you need],” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told displaced people in early March at Kibati I camp, located north of the provincial capital, Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “I will do my best to give you assistance,” he added.

These powerful words were supposed to bring hope to the thousands of Congolese refugees living in horrid conditions in Kibati and other camps in North Kivu. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Kibati camp contains 14,000 internally displaced people. In nearby Kibati II, there are another 4,000. Most of these internally displaced fled to the area last year as fighting between government forces and rebel troops increased.

But one month after Ban Ki-moon’s visit, the situation in Kibati camp is just as dreadful as before. Malnutrition among children is widespread. The majority of adult women and some female children complain that they are victims of rape. Security is almost non-existent. Tents are dirty and often ripped. Trucks bring in the supply of water, but often there is not enough nutritious food. Hopeless expressions on the faces of refugees speak to the tremendous hardship and suffering.

It is hard to determine who is really running the camp. Refugees sleep among empty cans with huge insignias spelling out “USA.” Plastic sheets with “USAID” logos function as walls. At the entrance to the camp, a huge banner indicates in French that the camp is run by Saving Lives through Alternative Options, a U.S. NGO based in Georgia. Other signs at the entrance indicate the presence of Mercy Corps, UNHCR, UNICEF, and USAID.

There is massive international presence in and around Goma. Dozens of international relief and humanitarian agencies including those from the United States and EU have offices in the city. One major UN base with hundreds of well-equipped soldiers protects the international airport and another can be found on the way to the Kibati camp. The cost of humanitarian and peacekeeping missions is evidently vast. But only a negligible fraction of the funds reaches the most vulnerable men, women, and children — those living in Kirabi and other refugee camps around Goma.

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, journalist, filmmaker, and playwright, co-founder of Mainstay Press, and a senior fellow at The Oakland Institute. A contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, he is presently living and working in Southeast Asia and East Africa, and can be reached at: andre-wcn (at) usa (dot) net.