Hundreds of children are feared missing or were separated from their families after Mount Nyiragongo erupted in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Sunday that the children were lost amid chaos as residents fled the nearby city of Goma. More than 150 children have been separated from their families and more than 170 children are feared to be missing, the agency said.
Around 8,000 people crossed into Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to seek refuge following the eruption of the volcano, Rwanda’s Emergency Management Ministry said Sunday.
“This morning, after lava flows from Nyiragongo volcano have stopped, most of Congolese evacuated to Rubavu are returning back home. Rwanda received around 8000 people last night,” the ministry said on its official Twitter account Sunday.
Thousands of residents in Goma spent the night outdoors following eruption on Saturday, according to a spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
“There has not been a massive panic movement, but people are really worried,” said Tom Peyre-Costa, the council’s spokesperson for west and central Africa.
Evacuees first walked toward Rwanda, Peyre-Costa told CNN. The border was closed, so they went back to Goma and headed to an area north of the city. Peyre-Costa posted to Twitter video of people leaving the city
“Everywhere in the city you see people walking with their belongings, their children and even their goats and whatever they could grab. Most of them are just sitting by the road waiting to be able to go back any time soon,” Peyre-Costa said.
But hundreds could return to find damaged homes and dangerous shortages of water and electricity, UNICEF said.
The children’s agency is sending a team to the area to work on limiting the spread of cholera. It is also establishing two transit centers for unaccompanied and separated children, in collaboration with the local Congolese authorities.
A leading humanitarian organization, the NRC has said the DRC was suffering through “the world’s most neglected displacement crisis” as multiple conflicts forced 2 million people to flee their homes in 2020.
“A lethal combination of spiraling violence, record hunger levels and total neglect has ignited a mega-crisis that warrants a mega-response,” NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland in a statement. “But instead, millions of families on the brink of the abyss seem to be forgotten by the outside world and are left shut off from any support lifeline,” he added.
The NRC said that a third of the country’s population – 27 million people, including more than 3 million children – do not have enough food to feed themselves.