The recent upsurge of tensions between the M23 Movement rebels and the government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has resulted in the displacement of thousands in late March, both within the country and to neighboring Uganda which is currently allowing asylum seekers to cross the border. The UNHCR, together with various other organizations, has joined forces to provide humanitarian assistance to these people, but the current environment of insecurity in the region, as well as seasonal rain, is jeopardizing the work of humanitarian actors[1].


The DRC, located in the center of the African continent, is both a receiver and a source of refugees: currently, there are about 521 000 people registered in the country, coming mostly from the Central African Republic[2]. However, the number of internally displaced Congolese is much higher, reaching around 5.5 million, of which about half are children.

The origin of this flux goes back to DRC’s struggle for independence after the Second World War. The country has been through two civil wars of which the last one ended somewhat recently, in 2003[3]. The conflict in the DRC is an example of a protracted one, which has been rather unlikely to solve despite several attempts with peace agreements.

Decades of violence and political and economic instability have resulted in deep implications for the development of the country and the population’s access to basic needs such as health and food security. It is estimated that nearly 64 percent of the population lives below the poverty line[4]. Naturally, the Covid-19 outbreak made the population even more vulnerable[5].

More than one hundred armed groups, such as the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces, are believed to operate in the eastern region of the DRC and perpetuate constant attacks against civilians[6]. As Ahere (2012) highlights, “the involvement of external actors who have played critical roles, have at times been helpful and at times destructive”, as most struggled to keep their neutrality in the mediation process, due to strategic motivations[7]. The rich mineral resources in the country facilitate rebel groups’ access to guns and other military equipment[8].

What is happening in the DRC? The security issue in camps.

The tensions felt in March 2022 only exacerbated the fragile peace in the country, as the M23 group has been active since 2009. In the past days, the displaced have been returning home after the force securities have asserted that it is safe to. Most of the population affected by the recent rebellions have argued that going back to their home provinces in the DRC[9], even though in a constant state of insecurity, prevails to be the easiest solution as they do not have access to food and other basic needs otherwise[10].

According to international conduct on refugee protection, a refugee camp must not only provide temporary shelter – while the term ‘temporary’ is in itself questionable – to victims of conflict but also ensure security within the perimeter of the camp. Nonetheless, security seems to be profoundly lacking in Congolese camps. Earlier in February, militiamen have allegedly attacked a camp in Djugu, taking the lives of about 60 civilians[11]. Further attacks followed in the same month, kidnapping and killing dozens more. Not only does this put the lives of the displaced at a constant risk but strongly compromises the work of UNHCR and the remaining organizations in the field, which also currently goes through the problem of lack of funding.[12] According to Fein & Hoek (2022), these kind of events, not only in the DRC but overall in African states, show how this level of insecurity and vulnerability in camps “represents a continuation of the conflict that affected refugees” and internally displaced that made them leave their homes in the first place[13].  The study concludes that urban refugee camps are particularly more exposed to conflict than the ones located in rural zones[14].

And yet, most discourses reluctant to refugee and displaced reception and repatriation are driven by security threats, which creates a paradox: do refugees cause insecurity, or are they their own victims of insecurity?

Numerous researchers have called for a greater commitment from the government to protect these camps, namely by providing more policing[15]. However, the increase of militarization near the camps would most likely instigate further reactions by rebel groups, which takes us again to the dilemma of securitization. Moreover, the current political environment in the country seems to be too fragile to be able to provide additional protection to the population. As such, it seems that the internally displaced will not be safe until there is some sort of negotiation with the insurgent groups that approaches deep-rooted divergences within the Congolese society. A hope for the conflict resolution should rely on a set of reflective improvements including de-escalation of conflict behavior: the first step of ceasefire from the military groups is essential but transforming the relationship between rival groups while approaching clashing interests, are essential to achieve sustainable peace[16].


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