On the night of February 25, 21 people escaped from the LRA in eastern Central African Republic (CAR), the most significant en masse defection since 2014. Since then, five other long term captives have escaped from the LRA, while one young man returned to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after a harrowing two-year journey through Sudan and South Sudan following his defection from Joseph Kony’s group. These recent escapees highlight both the importance of existing transit and reunification programs and the gaps in long-term reintegration assistance.
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Defections from LRA splinter groups
Twenty-one people, including women and children and at least two LRA combatants, escaped from an LRA splinter faction in CAR’s Haut Mbomou prefecture during the night of February 25. The group fled across the border into DRC, where they peacefully surrendered to security forces on February 27. Three additional Central African young men and a Central African girl also escaped from the splinter group between February 26-28. This is the most significant en masse LRA defection since 2014, and will further weaken the LRA faction which has been operating out of CAR’s Haut Mbomou prefecture.
The escapes come amid increasing brutality within LRA splinter factions, including the torture and execution of captives as a form of punishment. Additionally, the Haut Mbomou based-LRA faction has targeted locals in near-by communities in efforts to recapture girls and young women, who were utilized as sex slaves, after they escaped from the armed group. Testimony from escapees from these LRA factions have indicated that girls as young as nine years old are being subjected to sexual violence. The LRA faction in DRC has also been active, abducting 23 people in ten attacks in February 2021.
One escapee’s journey from Kafia Kingi to DRC
In 2019, a Congolese boy escaped from Joseph Kony’s base in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave along the border with South Sudan and northeastern CAR. The boy, who had been abducted by the armed group over 10 years earlier, walked throughout the night until he was picked-up by Sudanese security forces and transferred to Nyala, and later to Khartoum where he was detained for two years. In 2021, the Sudanese military transferred the young man to Wau, South Sudan. A local community member then brought the young man from Wau to Invisible Children’s office in Dungu, DRC – traveling over 400 km by motorcycle. Through the young man, Invisible Children learned of a young Congolese woman who escaped with her children from Kony’s faction and was taken in by a community along the Sudan-South Sudan border, where she has been stuck – without a means to return to her family who are over 800 km away.
Progress and challenges in support escapees
The returnees require immediate support and many will require cross-border repatriation. Invisible Children is currently providing support for 72 armed group escapees, the majority of whom are staying with Invisible Children-supported host families. Invisible Children utilizes an Early Warning System made possible by the USAID-funded Community Resilience in Central Africa (CRCA) Activity to locate their family members and arrange for their reunification. Since 2020, Invisible Children and its local partners have reunited 44 returnees with their families. While Invisible Children’s dedicated Protection Team works hard to meet the needs of returnees, funding for such support has reduced considerably in recent years. Even after returnees are reunited with their families, reintegration remains a challenge as there is currently no funding available to support long-term reintegration activities.
Your support today will help LRA escapees in Invisible Children’s care return home and reunite with their families.
The Crisis Tracker is a project of Invisible Children that incorporates data on armed group activity in the Mbomou-Uele border region, a geographic area that includes the prefectures of Haute Kotto, Mbomou, and Haut Mbomou in eastern CAR and areas of Haut Uele and Bas Uele provinces in northeastern DRC north of the Uele River. Information on armed group activity from neighboring areas of CAR, DRC, South Sudan, and Sudan is incorporated into our analysis of conflict dynamics in the Mbomou-Uele border region. Visit the Crisis Tracker website at www.crisistracker.org
The Crisis Tracker is made possible with the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 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.