As U.S. Sees Surge in Congolese Asylum Seekers at the Border, Hundreds of Thousands Have Fled Violence So Far This Month Alone

As the U.S. sees a rise in the number of arrivals of asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, hundreds of thousands of people have reportedly been forced to flee violence in the Central African country this month.

Since early June, more than 300,000 people have fled inter-ethnic violence in northeastern DRC, United Nations agencies said Tuesday, according to Reuters.

According to the news agency, at least 161 people were killed during fighting in the past week alone, with the region facing a resurgence of ethnic clashes between farming and herding communities.

"Violence in northeastern parts of the Democratic Republic of [the] Congo is reported to have displaced more than 300,000 since early June," U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Babar Baloch said in a news briefing.

The situation in the Ituri province, specifically, he said, "has deteriorated since the middle of last week, with multiple attacks involving the Hema and Lendu groups," he said.

Baloch said the UNHCR feared that the surge in fighting could soon spread to larger swathes of the province, which borders Uganda, driving more people to flee.

Further complicating matters is the Ebola epidemic which has spread through the DRC and across borders to Uganda last week.

Since August, the epidemic has caused more than 2,100 infections, resulting in 1,449 deaths, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said at the same briefing. At least 10 percent of the cases and deaths were in Ituri, he said.

"We are always saying the mobility of the population in North Kivu and Ituri is a risk factor," he said.

The warning from UNHCR and WHO comes as U.S. Border Patrol agents see a rise in the number of African migrants being detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, with migrants coming from the DRC, the Republic of the Congo and Angola.

In a statement earlier this month, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said that within a six-day span, more than 500 people from African countries had been arrested by Border Patrol's Del Rio Sector in Texas alone.

While the DRC faces one of the biggest Ebola outbreaks in history, in addition to being the battlefield for one of the world's bloodiest civil wars, in neighboring Angola, much of the country is still struggling to recover from the impact of the civil war that raged across the country for 27 years after independence, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead.

It is unclear exactly how African migrants are getting to the U.S.-Mexico border. However, in recent interviews with NPR, African migrants said they had traveled from their home countries to Brazil, before making their way north towards the U.S.-Mexico border, a trip that would likely take months.

The surge in arrivals of African asylum seekers comes amid a dramatic rise in the number of Central American asylum seekers, including many families, arriving at the border.

In the month of May, CBP said it saw a record 144,278 migrants arrive at the southern border, with more than 100,000 being families and children.

A Congolese family walks past a demarcated site in Kalemie on February 19 where a unexploded rocket was found, allegedly left behind after fighting in 1998. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in recent weeks. JOHN WESSELS/AFP