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Expert Opinion

A Life of Fear and Flight: The Legacy of LRA Brutality in North-East Democratic Republic of Congo

LRA displacement figures add to a global high 

Earlier this year, IDMC and UNHCR reported that in 2012, the world experienced the highest level of global displacement ever recorded. Crises around the world have contributed to the rising figures, and many of them do not appear to be abating.

The scale of displacement by LRA activities and the complexity of the displacement situation are comparable to some of the world’s most complex current crises, including Syria and Colombia. Of the total population in the LRA affected areas of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan, 20% are currently internally displaced. This is comparable to the situation in Syria (around 25% of the population is internally displaced) and Colombia (around 11% of the population is internally displaced).

North-east DRC is the worst affected by LRA displacement

North-east DRC is now the global hot spot for LRA displacement.  The highest levels of LRA-displaced people today are found in DRC’s north-eastern Province Orientale, with an estimated 320,000 people currently living in displacement due to LRA violence. Those who have been displaced face particular challenges in accessing health care, education and employment, as well as tensions with local communities over provision of humanitarian aid and access to farm land. These challenges exist within the context of underlying structural issues that affect all populations in the area, dispalced or not.

In addition, many of those displaced face stigmatisation by their own people and are marginalised by their host communities for various reasons: the taboos surrounding the violent acts committed against them, such as the stigmas associated with rape and forced marriage; the actions of those who were abducted or forcibly recruited, who were often forced to participate in killings; and the constant reminders of their time in captivity, the most visible being children born as a result of rape. Among the local actors working to break down these barriers is UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award laureate, Sister Angélique. She works to provide women and girls in Dungu, many of whom were abducted by the LRA, with livelihoods opportunities and hope for the future.

Fear as a trigger of flight, and a barrier to returning home

The unique brutality of LRA is deeply ingrained in the lives and minds of those living in LRA territory. Those who suffered under the brutal hands of the LRA continue to relive their own personal hell. ‘We are no longer quiet in our heads,’ said one internally displaced person in Dungu, DRC to IDMC’s researcher. ‘The images of the attacks are on endless repeat in my head,’ said another.

Ultimately, this fear has contributed to a situation of protracted displacement: over 55% of people displaced by LRA activities have been living in displacement for up to 5 years. Refusal to return is often explained by a constant fear of further LRA attacks, a legitimate fear supported by a weak security capacity in the affected areas. Further, as highlighted in report, even the rumour of LRA activity can lead to displacement, emptying whole villages overnight.  Indeed, the UN Security Council, among other actors, recently expressed concern that the threat from the LRA was being potentially overlooked.

‘A drop in violence should not lead to a drop in the provision of aid.’

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the world’s leading humanitarian NGOs and IDMC’s parent organisation, cautioned the press today of the risks attached: ‘The drop in LRA attacks should not be a cause for premature withdrawal of aid. Right now, there is an ever-growing need for specialised long-term support for communities affected by LRA, such as trauma counselling and help for former abductees facing stigmatisation. Only in doing so can we ensure that the displaced can collectively move forward from the horrendous atrocities that have been inflicted on them over the last 30 years, and find peace.’

Read the report, A life of fear and flight: The Legacy of LRA Brutality in north-east Democratic Republic of Congo

Learn more about UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award Laureate