Congo's Displaced People 'Growing and Growing'

An aid worker speaks to ABC News from Eastern Congo about the effect on kids.

ByABC News
November 17, 2008, 8:43 AM

GOMA, Congo, Nov. 17, 2008 — -- As the crisis in Congo deepens, children are among the worst affected. Fighting in the central African nation intensified in August and has since displaced at least 250,000 people, despite the presence of the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world.

Aid agencies are struggling to help the thousands of displaced people. ABC News spoke to George Graham, who works for the aid agency Save the Children's Emergency Response Team in Goma, Eastern Congo. Here are his comments.

I was in Kibati camp Sunday; it's about 12 miles outside Goma. It's a squalid place; the conditions for living there are very tough. The number of people living there has shot up by fourfold in the last few weeks. ...[At the] Save the Children center for unaccompanied children there are dozens and dozens of kids hanging there ... being registered by our staff and waiting to see if there is any chance of seeing their parents again ...

[There are] many, many children who ... don't know who their parents are, who fled from their villages in terror, often in the middle of the night, who somehow got separated from their parents and they are now living in a camp. [They are] very, very vulnerable without the support they need from their parents.

There was one little boy [9 years old] who really very vividly explained to me what had happened to him. He'd been asleep in his village with his family in his hut in a village that was attacked. ... It was 4 in the morning, we think, and his whole family just got up and they ran. And he heard his parents shouting at him, "Come follow us, follow us, follow us," and he tried but couldn't find them. There was shooting all around and he found himself on his own. Now his parents, I'm sure, looked for him there in the village but they couldn't find him. He was there on his own and, in the end, he had to walk on his own for a whole day so he found the camp where he was at least given some shelter and some food but he still hasn't found his parents.

We have managed to reunite people and that's what makes this job worth doing. By advertising our centers, by making people know we were there; families have come, children have come and they've reunited with each other. What we've [found] is that you need to act quickly, so it's best to get there on the roads as they are moving and to provide an opportunity for separated, unaccompanied children to unite around a central point and then the parents are able to come and find them. The problems come if we are not able to react that quickly and then children move to the camps and their parents may be in a completely different locality; they may be in a different camp, they [may] be living somewhere miles and miles apart and in those circumstances it's certainly becomes very, very hard to reunite these children with their parents.