DRC: Insecurity and impunity force MSF to halt work in Nizi and Bambu
Four months after a convoy of vehicles belonging to international medical organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) came under fire by unidentified armed men in Ituri province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), MSF has announced that it will close its projects in Nizi and Bambu due to a lack of security guarantees from all parties to the conflict. Two MSF staff were severely wounded in the attack, which took place on October 28, 2021, on the road between Kobu and Bambu in Ituri province’s Djugu territory.
Following the incident, MSF called on all parties to the conflict to condemn the attack and to respect international humanitarian law and protect medical facilities, health workers, ambulances, patients and the wounded. MSF also asked the authorities to launch an investigation into the incident, but this has not happened.
Little to no choice
“We have been left with little choice but to close our projects,” said Olivier Maizoué, MSF program manager for DRC. “The risks are simply too high and therefore it is impossible for MSF to return to those areas with confidence. We regret this decision very much, since this will have dire consequences for a population with acute needs, but we cannot risk lives to save lives.”
MSF will continue to provide medical and humanitarian aid elsewhere in Ituri province, including Drodro and Angumu, and will continue to support local health authorities in Nizi and Bambu by donating medicines and medical supplies to cover the months ahead. “We are, however, painfully aware that this one-off donation will not compensate for our departure and will adversely affect those people in dire need of healthcare,” said Maizoué.
All parties to the conflict are supposed to facilitate unimpeded access of humanitarian aid for civilians in need and respect and protect humanitarian personnel. MSF therefore maintains its request for an investigation to be carried out by the authorities and calls for all warring parties as well as all persons in a position of influence to work on ensuring an environment that allows people to receive the aid they so desperately need.
Not the first time
The attack in October was not the only recent incident to impact MSF teams in Ituri province. In June 2021, the main referral hospital in Boga town, which was supported by MSF, was severely damaged during fighting in the town. At least 12 people lost their lives, while several buildings, including the intensive care unit, were burnt down, and the hospital’s pharmacy and stocks of medical supplies were looted.
“We are concerned by the numerous attacks and looting of health facilities and we are deeply disturbed by the climate of impunity that reigns today in this part of DRC,” said Jérome Alin, MSF Country Director. “We know that impunity fuels yet more violence.”
MSF teams in other areas of DRC have witnessed similar incidents aimed at medical and humanitarian workers. To voice their concern and show solidarity with their colleagues and with everyone affected, MSF staff in DRC will stage a one-day protest on March 23, 2022. On that day, only lifesaving medical activities will continue.