International NGO Safety Organisation
Two INSO colleagues talking with a partner from Première Urgence Internationale

M23 Escalations: Humanitarian Coordination in Action

During the most recent M23 escalations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), INSO’s country team has been working on ensuring that NGOs have access to reliable and up-to-date information, alongside support in contingency planning and emergency coordination.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is reaching a critical stage, with Goma once again under threat. The country is home to the worst displacement crisis, with 25.4 million people in need according to UN OCHA figures. Since early February, escalations by the M23, backed by Rwanda, have led to a deterioration of the security situation in North Kivu. The fighting has intensified around Sake and neighbouring towns, only 20km from Goma, with seven times as many security incidents per week compared to 2023. 


In addition to this, South Kivu is experiencing increased insecurity as the M23 crisis spills over into the province. Many people fleeing the fighting in North Kivu are moving towards South Kivu, particularly to Minova, putting pressure on host communities as camps are established to house those displaced. The fighting is also impacting supply chains, increasing food insecurity in South Kivu, which relies on agricultural products from the North.  


INSO is currently providing safety and access services to 186 partners in the DRC and has continued working from Goma, Bukavu, Bunia and Kalemie throughout this most recent escalation. Partners have continued to receive operational alerts, allowing them to stay up-to-date with the most recent developments in real-time, alongside tailored advice regarding evacuations, contingency plans, and safe access routes. 

Impact on Access  

For NGOs operating in the region, the fighting has led to a reduction in humanitarian access. The main routes out of Goma, crucial for the movement of civilians, essential goods, and humanitarian aid, have become increasingly difficult and complex to navigate.  


“The crisis has recently displaced more than 200,000 people to Goma, many of whom are seeking refuge in IDP camps, which are becoming increasingly insecure due to their proximity to military operations” says Lucas Bredal, Regional Analyst, “As a result, many NGOs have reduced their operating hours at IDP camps or have had to stop aid activities to limit exposure while frontlines are active.”


One of our partners, Eugide Lalé Mbunda, Head of Mission, Première Urgence Internationale (DRC), explained, “The escalation of the conflict and the intensification of clashes has made it difficult to continue our activities in Sake, where we had teams working. The multiplicity of actors and the rapid progression of the M23 have complicated security management in the area.” 

NGO Acceptance  

M23 recently reinforced the access conditions of zones under their control, resulting in access challenges for many NGO partners. INSO, as co-chair of the access forum alongside UN OCHA, works to ensure that partners can maintain their aid operations through continuous support and regular briefings. INSO has supported negotiations with M23 leadership to provide a clear access procedure to the humanitarian community, which is to be re-negotiated after a change in leadership.  

Stay and Deliver 

“During February, we advised NGOs that despite the increasing challenges on access and NGO acceptance, it was possible to stay and continue activities, with contingency plans in place,” said Marc Sere de Rivieres, INSO Country Director for DRC, “for NGOs who felt comfortable staying, we supported them with recommendations, which included preparing for hibernation if the fighting drew closer to Goma, and providing analysis and alerts to ensure they stay well informed of the risks.”  


As the fighting intensified, partners’ demand for services increased. As Eugide Lalé Mbunda highlighted, “Since the start of the clashes around Sake on February 7, we have been asking INSO for advice every day to enable us to organize the movements of our teams because each trip is risky.”  


Our partner’s need for more frequent communication during the escalations led us to increase our bilateral meetings with both partners and donors, as well as the number of access forum meetings, to ensure our partners could make informed decisions, assessing programme criticality against risk. In parallel to this, crisis management became a top priority. Our DRC team worked on coordinating the relocation of partners in areas with a high intensity of fighting and leveraging their information networks to ensure they have the most up-to-date information on safe access routes and no-go areas. Thanks to this proactivity, INSO analysed and anticipated areas prone to see military escalations, which helped NGOs maintain a flexible presence, while reducing exposure in areas and times of combat. 


Première Urgence Internationale had been about to leave for a project site but stopped their plans due to an INSO alert. Less than thirty minutes later, heavy shelling began in the area. 


“Thanks to the coordination of INSO, the sharing of information, a well-stocked address book and a good analysis of the context, we were able to reassure our teams and put in place identified risk mitigation measures. Before one of the sites where we worked was bombed, we were able to organize the relocation of our teams to Goma.” Eugide Lalé Mbunda, Head of Mission, Première Urgence Internationale (DRC)


We advise all partners to download the INSO app so that they can receive alerts in real time. This can be particularly useful for planning and monitoring travel or for monitoring incidents around project sites.   

Humanitarian Coordination

In times of crisis, the need for coordination is heightened. This is why we focus on enabling emergency coordination when escalations happen. In parallel to this, humanitarian diplomacy is a strong tool that NGOs should make use of. As a result of the increased fighting, we have been focusing on advocacy and policy efforts that will better protect aid workers operating in North Kivu and ensure that operations can continue.  


In the last few months, our team in Goma has been focusing their advocacy efforts on two main issues. Firstly, for the repositioning of military sites away from IDP camps to improve safety and access. This is an ongoing process, and INSO continues to meet with officials to advocate on behalf of NGOs operating in the region. Whilst some military sites have been effectively relocated as a result of NGO advocacy efforts, military activity near IDP camps continues to negatively impact access in several areas, and NGOs need to manage these risks. Secondly, NGOs are being exposed to the presence of armed actors inside the camps and the myriad of safety issues this poses.  As a result, INSO has been engaging in collective advocacy (alongside the INGO Forum, Protection Cluster, Peace Organisations, and others) at a government level, sharing with ministers the consequences of such presence. Recently, partners have reported a significant reduction of armed actors, which is helping them to slowly return to normal operating hours. This underlines the impact advocacy efforts can hold, and NGOs should engage in joint humanitarian advocacy efforts when necessary. 


Most importantly, during heightened activity, it is possible that the number of incidents can feel overwhelming. However, INSO ensures that our centralised database CHDC is maintained even in times of crisis, this safeguards our analysis as we can be sure that it continues to be based on extensive incident collection that has been carefully verified. As an INSO partner you can access all incidents reported to INSO via our centralised database, the CHDC.  


If you are an NGO operating in the DRC and would like to register for INSO services, you can do so via this page or by emailing 


INSO’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo is supported by the USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), the European Commission (ECHO), German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the French Ministry of Europe and External Affairs (CDCS), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). All services provided by INSO are funded by institutional donors and delivered free of charge to registered NGO partners. For more information, visit