There were an estimated 1.7 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as of July 2011, the vast majority of them in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu. This included over 128,000 people newly displaced in the first quarter of 2011. Most fled their homes to escape fighting between rebel groups and the Congolese armed forces, while others were victims of direct attacks and violence perpetrated by the warring parties or by other armed individuals. The UN peacekeeping mission has provided some support to the army in its fight against rebel groups, and has led short operations too.
One million people were displaced during 2009, during major military operations against rebel groups in the Kivus and subsequent retaliatory attacks against civilians by these groups. Meanwhile, a million people reportedly returned home in 2009 and 2010. Displacement peaked in 2003, with an estimated 3.4 million people forced from their homes, most of them in the east of the country.
As national and international attention is focused on the presidential elections scheduled for the end of November 2011, the security situation in the eastern part of the country remains volatile due to the presence of foreign and local armed groups.
In 2011, non-state armed groups in the Kivus were able to retake old positions and cause renewed attacks against civilians, including the killing and rape of IDPs, as army units were removed from entire zones already prone to insecurity to be brought together for training before their redeployment, leaving their inhabitants without any protection. Due to heightened insecurity, the rate of return slowed down in mid-2011, compared to previous months.
A number of national and international organisations are attempting to meet the needs of IDPs and returnees. The scale of the international assistance has grown steadily, but has reportedly remained far from adequate to meet the magnitude of the needs. Humanitarian agencies have struggled to respond to the emergency needs of IDPs and other vulnerable people who are often in remote areas, in the context of ongoing military operations and increased attacks against their staff.