DRC: More children risk being separated from family as tens of thousands flee on fears of another volcano eruption
Under the threat of another eruption, tens of thousands of people have been ordered to leave Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, raising fears that even more children are at risk of being separated from their families, Save the Children warned.
The organisation has been working to reunite children who were separated from their families since the deadly eruption of Mount Nyiragongo on 22 May. At least 243 children are still separated from their parents – most are in temporary family housing and transit centres.
The sudden eruption sent lava flowing into populated areas of Goma, destroying around 1,000 homes in four villages, six schools and vital infrastructure, cutting off power and water supplies to hundreds of thousands of people. In the ensuing chaos and earthquakes, 939 separated children were identified - 696 have been reunited with their families.
The parents of Tresor*, 11 and Hortensia*, 5 live in Turunga and work at the market. They were not at home when the volcano started erupting and by the time they got home, some of the children had already fled. They searched for Tresor* and Hortensia* at the hospital, at the morgue and even at the prison. Their father Bahati* said, “We were very scared. We were bitter because we had escaped the events but we were traumatised. We left the house at 6 am to look for the children.”
Tresor* explained: “When the eruption happened, one man was driving in the neighbourhood offering a ride to people. I took my sister with me because I didn’t want to leave her.”
When asked why he followed the fleeing people all the way to the town of Sake, he said: “I thought that at home everyone must have been dead. I am very tired but when I go home I will embrace my little brother”.
Edouard Niyonzima, Humanitarian Worker for Save the Children in Goma, said:
“We can see the situation in Goma district is getting worse. Earthquakes are continuing in the region which is already reeling from destroyed homes, schools and infrastructure. Half a million people are without water, which raises the risk of a cholera outbreak.”
“This disaster comes while the DRC is already home to one of the largest populations of displaced people in the world and the most on the African continent. 5.2 million people are internally displaced, and this latest crisis is putting even more pressure on the already strained resources of the government and aid organisations.”
“Our teams come across unaccompanied children in the shelters – children at risk of abuse or exploitation if they are not noticed. They, and also the ones who already have been reunited with family, will have to deal with the trauma of losing their homes, schools, and sometimes even family members or friends.”
Amavi Akpamagbo, Save the Children’s Country Director in DRC, added:
“Our primary focus is the protection of all children particularly through family tracing and reunification. Mental health and psychological support is a key component to offer to affected communities and children.”
Save the Children is in Goma, where it is working with the local partner Umoja in Action to support the reunification of children with their families, together with the Child Protection Working Group and other actors.
Save the Children has worked in the DRC for more than 25 years, including in Goma where it has a strong relationship with local communities, partner NGOs, and officials. The organisation manages programmes in Health, Child protection, Education.
*Names changed to protect children’s identities
 Identified by the Child Protection Working Group