In January 2020, there was a surge of escapees from armed groups in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), eastern Central African Republic (CAR), and Sudan. Over the course of two weeks in January, 12 individuals escaped from armed groups, including nine children. Five other individuals, including two children, escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in February 2020. Of these 17 escapees, at least 15 escaped from LRA groups operating across the region, including Joseph Kony’s group near Darfur, Sudan.

In many ways, Invisible Children is enabled to respond to this surge in LRA and other armed group escapes and provide support to returnees by the USAID-funded Community Resilience in Central Africa (CRCA) Activity. By supporting Peace Committees in 144 communities across the region and as well as an Early Warning System which more than 142 communities use to share security information, CRCA has made it possible for local communities to act as effective first responders and to alert Invisible Children when someone escapes from an armed group nearby. 

Invisible Children staff facilitate twice daily security calls, using the CRCA-supported early warning system. Communities use these calls to report LRA escapees in need of Invisible Children support.

Through CRCA, Invisible Children provides training to local Peace Committees on encouraging defection and protocols to follow when an escapee arrives in their community including the use of the Early Warning System to alert Invisible Children to the presence of escapees. To further encourage community acceptance of escapees and defectors, who often face stigma when they return home, CRCA also holds community screenings of the film, They Came at Night, along with post-screening discussions to sensitize communities on the plight of escapees and how community members can support their return and integration. 

Once communities alert Invisible Children to the presence of an armed group escapee in need of support, Invisible Children works with members of the Peace Committee to collect additional details, arrange for their immediate care within the community and, oftentimes, begin to arrange for the escapee to be relocated to a secure location, where they can be placed with an Invisible Children-trained host family. Once the returnee’s immediate care is arranged, the Early Warning System is used to locate their family, and begin the process of arranging their travel home. Returnees are often able to speak to their loved ones using the early warning system, which not only instills a sense of hope in returnees and their families, it also helps jumpstart the reintegration process. 

LRA escapees are placed with Invisible Children-trained host families, who care for escapees as they wait to be reunited with their families.

Invisible Children’s work to support LRA escapees provides a unique opportunity to understand LRA groups and identify trends in LRA group activity. LRA escapees can often provide vital information on the locations, activities, and dynamics of LRA groups during de-brief interviews conducted by trained Invisible Children staff. The information collected in these interviews is then reviewed and triangulated by Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker and Conflict Analysis team. These first-hand reports are essential for monitoring LRA activity and anticipating movements and operations that threaten civilian populations, as well as wildlife in the region. In particular, information gathered from recent escapees from Joseph Kony’s LRA group, confirms that the leader is aging but in good health and continues to operate along the border of eastern CAR and Sudan’s Darfur region. 

Additionally, escapees often provide insights into the readiness of other members of their group to defect. Recent escapees, noted that some combatants would be willing to defect but are scared to do so as they do not know what would happen to them once they do. These reports signal the need for defection messaging, a proven tool for encouraging LRA defections, to explain the return process and assure potential defectors of their safety if they were to defect.

As LRA captives continue to escape, Invisible Children remains committed to providing support to all those who need it. Using the tools made available by the USAID-funded CRCA Activity, Invisible Children leverages the support of donors around the world to coordinate immediate care, locate the families of escapees, and ultimately bring them home.

You can help make this possible by donating to support Invisible Children’s work today.

CRCA programs described in this blog are made possible with the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). CRCA programs do not include support to LRA returnees described in this post.

The contents of this post are the sole responsibility of Invisible Children and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.