Democratic Republic of Congo: The forgotten people of Ituri


“I fled my village with my sister, but the attackers found us. We were their hostages for two weeks. On the road, they slaughtered people in front of us. When we were released, we managed to join our parents in Rho camp.”

Benjamin, 16, sits next to his father in their shelter made of plastic sheeting in Rho IDP camp, DRC, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET

20,000 displaced people in Drodro

In northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), some 20,000 people have settled in informal camps after fleeing their villages. They are currently living in Drodro parish or in the Rho camp located in the surrounding area. Looting, burning, violence and insecurity have forced people in Ituri province to leave their home and seek refuge in camps, which provide only a little more security.

Despite the presence of armed forces to ensure the protection of the inhabitants, Rho camp has already been attacked twice. In addition to violence in and around the site, refugees also face measles and malaria. Emergency thresholds for these diseases have been exceeded and mortality rates are extremely high.

A child carries their sibling while walking in the rain puddles in Rho camp. Democratic Republic of Congo, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET

Some of the camps for displaced people located in Ituri Province

An endless conflict

In this region, violent conflict between communities marked the early 2000s. It has continued sporadically over the years and flared up once again in December 2017. Economic interests, as well as a struggle for the control of land and resources, underlie the current conflict, which cannot be reduced to just ethnic tensions as the cause.

As a result, regular cycles of violence against people have forced over one million to flee their homes. As of today, 100,000 are living with host families and 200,000 more have taken refuge in the camps.


“In December 2018, the attackers looted and burned down our village, including my house. We stayed in the neighbouring village for two weeks before gradually returning home. We rebuilt a new house, but they burned it down a second time.”

Josée Ddikanza Nyudey, 36, holds her 6-year-old daughter Espérance by the shoulder to show her gunshot wound during an armed attack in late September 2019 at the Rho IDP site, Djugu territory. Ituri province, Democratic Republic of Congo, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET

“When the attackers arrived, they shouted: ‘You’ll see, today we’re going to kill you all’. There was shooting everywhere. Espérance, my daughter, started crying but it was dark, and we couldn’t light the torches. It was only in the morning that I saw the blood on the floor and the gunshot wound on my daughter’s shoulder. Later, when I arrived in the camp, I could take her to the MSF mobile clinic.

Josée, 36, holding her daughter Espérance, 6, in their in their shelter made of straw, Rho IDP camp, DRC, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET
Josée, her husband André and their children, in front of their shelter. Espérance, their 6-year-old daughter, was shot and wounded during an armed attack on the IDP site in late September 2019, DRC, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET


“It’s raining inside our shelter and we have almost no food. My daughter Josie is vomiting, she has diarrhoea and she is coughing. Since we’ve been here, my children have been ill all the time. Every week I take them to the mobile clinic.”

Honorine, 31, holding her 7-month-old daughter in the MSF mobile clinic, Rho IDP camp, DRC, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET

Life in the camp

In the camp, families live in dire conditions and fear continuing attacks. They live in makeshift shelters or in public buildings such as churches and schools. They have very limited access to food and water. In order to survive, some people work in fields which are owned by the host communities; others manage to earn a little money in trade at the local market.

“We have only received one food distribution. We do the daily work in the fields and eat the cassava leaves.” Dieudonné, 32, who arrived in Rho in June 2019, is the father of seven children, four of whom have died. Access to health care is also very complicated because few health facilities are functional in the region.


“Here, most people work as a daily worker in the surrounding fields for $0.60 a day. But there is a lot of insecurity and if the attackers see us on our way to the fields, they kill us.”

Samuel, community leader in the camp, stands amidst straw and plastic sheeting shelters, DRC, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET

Healthcare desert

The public health system is decimated; healthcare centres have been destroyed and looted. Few organisations are currently active in this area and the needs are increasing as the camp population continues to grow. In addition to the terrible conditions in the camps, which make the camps’ inhabitants ill, measles and malaria are severely affecting children.

A ward at Lita's general hospital, that was attacked and looted by armed men, DRC, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET
Melchior, auxiliary nurse, shows the almost empty stock of medicines at the Masumbuko healthcare centre, DRC, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET


“In 2018, the attackers had already come to kill us and loot our hospital. But this year it’s even worse; they burned everything, the centre and all the equipment. All the medicines were stolen. I took over my husband’s job at the healthcare centre. He was the head nurse, but the attackers killed him last year.”

Séraphine, head nurse, surveys a destroyed healthcare centre, DRC, Novembre 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET

Assisting the displaced


Vulnerable people, especially children under five, are severely affected by preventable diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. Among children under five who arrived in Nizi health zone during spring 2019, mortality rates were three times higher than emergency thresholds. (Retrospective Mortality Survey, November 2019).

MSF is providing medical care to displaced people in Ituri province, carrying out water and sanitation activities, distributing mosquito nets and relief items in 34 sites across the Nizi, Drodro and Angumu health zones.

Since December 2019, activities have been scaled up to strengthen ambulance transfers and hospital care. In addition to medical consultations, health promoters inform people about the care available in MSF facilities, and are the eyes and ears of communities living with unimaginable trauma.

An MSF staff member checks the intravenous drip of Honorine's 7-month-old child in the mobile clinic of the camp, DRC, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET
Emmanuel (left) talks to Flauribert, an MSF health promoter, next to where his shelter was destroyed during a recent attack in the camp, DRC, November 2019. © ALEXIS HUGUET