Former child soldiers are among internal refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo receiving help from a leading Catholic charity.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is providing emergency aid for more than 1,000 refugees who have fled from Ugandan-based rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) during their raids on villages in Haut-Uélé province, in the north-east of DR Congo.
Over the last two years the LRA have increasingly struck towns and villages, reportedly without provocation, abducting children and killing people indiscriminately.
According to Bishop Julien Andavo Mbia of Isiro-Niangara, who is overseeing efforts for the refugees, abducted children are especially at risk.
Bishop Andavo told ACN, “The boys are trained to fight, while the girls are forced to become sex slaves.”
To help those affected, ACN is giving $6,200 in aid for the victims of the LRA as part of its ongoing support for Church-run projects in the country.
The grant, which is being made this month (May), allows Bishop Mbia to feed the survivors of LRA attacks and give basic shelter and blankets to those who had to flee when their huts were burnt down.
It will also provide clothing, as many displaced families had no time to gather possessions when the LRA attacked and fled wearing few or no clothes.
Bishop Mbia’s program will also be providing medicines to nurse the wounds of those who have had lips and ears cut off during such raids.
Describing a typical raid by the LRA Bishop Andavo said: “Within 20 minutes they can search through everything – looting foodstuffs and seizing the young people.”
Doctors Without Borders, the international medical and humanitarian aid organization, reports that patients have told countless stories of children being forced to kill their own parents.
ACN’s Africa expert, Christine du Coudray Wiehe, who has traveled to DR Congo many times, said: “It is hard to imagine the cruelty of those young boys, drugged to be able to kill their relatives.”
“If they resist, they are shot in front of the others.”
Some of the rescued children told how they had been forced to fight and given only one meal a day. Miss du Coudray said the limited amount of food was another way of keeping control over them.
Comboni missionary Father Romano Segalini told ACN, “They are traumatized and many of them are sick.”
The priest, who is looking after 22 former child soldiers on the Ugandan border, added, “They have been through hell, but now they are with us and we want to help them to find new hope.”
The youngest of his charges is barely 10 years old.
“Many of them are wounded; they have shown us the scars, the results of violence. The girls were all raped,” he said.
ACN is also helping the Church in this afflicted region by supporting the training of 47 seminarians at the major seminary of St. Mbaga Tuzine, Murhesa.
In 2009, ACN gave the Church in DR Congo more than $2.4 million in aid.