‘I’ll never see him again’: Aid worker killed in attack in eastern DRC | Conflict News

Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo – It was Sunday, June 30, two days after M23 rebels seized the strategic town of Kanyabayonga in Lubero territory in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

After dark, horrifying images began circulating on social media showing the wreckage of an unidentified vehicle and the bodies of two lynched men, their faces bloodied and difficult to identify.

Five vehicles carrying 12 humanitarian workers had left Lubero area a few hours earlier, heading to Beni, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away, local sources told NDMT, when their convoy was attacked.

two Aid workers in Congo The group said workers working for the foreign NGO Tearfund were killed, while five cars and seven motorbikes were also set on fire, a civil society source told NDMT.

One of the victims was John Nzabanita Amahoro, 37, who had worked as a water, sanitation and hygiene technician for a UK-based charity for 10 years.

His brother, Jean-Claude Nzabanita, said his son’s death had left a huge hole in his heart.

“My brother was on duty and had nothing to do with the war. I will never see him again. [again]” he told NDMT.

The whole family had high hopes for Amahoro, who he described as the family’s breadwinner and the glue that held his siblings together, he added.

“He cooperated with everyone, but those who killed him did not know that thousands of hopes had been dashed,” he said, tears streaming down his face.

170 security incidents

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there have been more than 170 security incidents targeting humanitarian workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo so far this year, leaving at least four people dead and 20 injured.

More than 10 humanitarian workers were also kidnapped in the first half of 2024. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Said.

M23 rebels in the town of Kibumba in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, 2022. [File: Moses Sawasawa/AP]

Violence in eastern DRC has intensified since late 2021, when M23 rebels launched attacks on the Congolese army.

Despite repeated calls for a ceasefire, fighting continues and the M23 now controls large swaths of Congo’s territory, raising tensions between the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighbouring Rwanda, which UN experts say is backing the militant group, a charge denied by the Kigali government.

Increasing fighting has forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, with many now living in squalid conditions in camps around the cities of Goma, Rutshuru and Lubero, where aid groups are trying to provide support.

At the time of his death, Amahoro was supporting the Tearfund-led emergency response in Kibirizi and Kaina Wilderness, where thousands of displaced people have fled the fighting zone.

The perpetrators of the June 30 attack are unknown, but experts say more than 120 armed groups in eastern DRC regularly target civilians.

At the same time, there is a history of distrust towards foreign organisations.

Distrust of aid workers

Dadi Saleh, a Goma-based social and security expert, told NDMT that Congolese people no longer trust NGOs. People are marginalized and impoverished by decades of war, and are angry that they are not benefiting from the aid these organizations provide, he explained.

“Many believe that NGOs do not help the DRC’s development, do not want its people to be self-reliant and keep them trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty,” he said.

Over the past four years, a growing distrust has grown in the minds of many citizens, leading them to view the work of humanitarian NGOs through the lens of conspiracy theories that date back further than the current conflict: there were reports of attacks on medical response teams during previous Ebola outbreaks. Anti-aid activist rhetoric has also been growing for decades in the east of the country, blaming NGOs for the country’s misfortunes.

According to the United Nations, there are more than 2.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in North Kivu province alone.

Internally displaced persons camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Displaced persons camp in Bulengo, North Kivu [Prosper Heri Ngorora/NDMT]

United Nations agencies and humanitarian groups in the state are working to provide basic needs such as food, water, shelter and sanitation, and local residents acknowledge that, despite some skepticism, they are making an effort.

“WFP [World Food Programme] “The government gives us money, we buy clothes for our children and wives,” said Olivier Chamabu, a displaced person living in Bulengo refugee camp southwest of Goma, adding that other organisations such as Concern were building toilets and providing water and other facilities.

NDMT’s interviews with displaced people suggest that misunderstandings and lack of communication may be one of the factors contributing to distrust of aid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Challenging” situations

Lonely Ntibonela, 33, is a humanitarian communications specialist based in Goma. MidefehopA local NGO that advocates for the rights of children and vulnerable women.

Recounting the incident that happened in late 2022, he said he narrowly escaped being abducted by armed men in the Rutshuru area.

He said humanitarians were working tirelessly to alleviate suffering, but were also being targeted by armed groups and civilians egged on by dark forces.

“The situation in North Kivu is very tough for us. We face security problems every day. I was ruthlessly arrested by armed groups who accused me of being a spy for the enemy. Luckily, local authorities helped me and released me. I was afraid they would kidnap me but God helped me,” he said.

Another aid worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share his experience, told NDMT how he fled from assailants while working with World Vision in Goma in April.

“One day I was distributing jerrycans to people displaced by the war and suddenly, I don’t know how it happened, people started pelting me with stones. They said the aid was not enough and the displaced people were expecting more,” he said.

He credited a nearby motorbike rider with helping him escape to safety, he said, adding that doing humanitarian work in eastern DRC was like doing maths homework in a furnace.

Hubert Masomeko is a security and peacebuilding expert in the Great Lakes region who closely follows the humanitarian situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He acknowledged the level of suffering of local residents but said greater humanitarianism and cooperation with aid workers was needed.

For Masomeko, the DRC government alone cannot provide the services and assistance needed to large numbers of displaced people, and accredited NGOs operating in the country have the right to partner with the authorities to help those in need.

“It is unfortunate to attack humanitarians in times of war. IDPs need humanitarian assistance to survive. Attacking NGOs is not prudent and could have a negative impact on humanitarian assistance to displaced Congolese,” he warned, adding that the government should do more to end attacks on humanitarians by bringing peace and helping people return to their homes.

“We’re still here.”

The needs of displaced people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are enormous. Funding Goal The conditions are yet to be met and conditions remain challenging for humanitarian workers.

On May 30, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced it was suspending distribution of food aid to displaced people in Kanyabayonga, which had begun five days earlier. The operation was originally scheduled to last for 10 days, but was halted due to clashes between M23 and the Congolese army, raising concerns among members of civil society.

Escalating violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Clashes between M23 rebels and government forces in North Kivu province have forced thousands to flee. [File: Aubin Mukoni/AFP]

Meanwhile, in an interview with NDMT, Tearfund representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Poppy Anguandia, spoke out against the attacks that targeted her organization’s staff on June 30.

Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is complex, with many crises happening at the same time, she acknowledged, saying the lack of peace in the region is at the root of incidents of violence against aid workers.

But she stressed that Tearfund will continue its mission to help where help is needed most.

“For now, at least, I can say that we are still here and continuing most of our work to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people who have fled the conflict,” she said on the sidelines of a funeral held last week to honour the victims.

Bruno Lemarquis, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, called for an end to attacks on aid workers, saying they were a serious violation of international humanitarian law and had a “devastating impact” on humanitarian access and aid organisations’ ability to deliver vital assistance to people in need.

“It is unacceptable that at a time when humanitarian assistance is sorely needed, people working to help disaster victims are attacked and killed,” he said last week.

Activists say the dire humanitarian and security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is leading some people to take advantage of the crisis to attack humanitarian workers.

Moïse Hangi, a human rights activist from the civil participatory movement Lucha, criticised the Congolese government’s “inertia”, saying he believes it has full authority to restore state power and limit these types of incidents.

“If Kinshasa takes this war seriously, they can end it as soon as possible and bring their people home, and then we won’t have to see so many humanitarians in the DRC,” he said.

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