Catastrophic conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are growing worse. In the past few years, multiple armed conflicts, unprecedented flooding, and a dire humanitarian situation have displaced more than 7 million people, the second-largest displacement crisis in the world. Then in March, the March 23 Movement (M23) – a Congolese armed group credibly accused of egregious violations of international law – launched a new offensive against the Congolese military (FARDC) and its allies, gaining territory and displacing more than one hundred thousand people. In early May, the Congolese and US governments accused M23 and Rwanda (M23’s backer) of shelling camps for internally displaced people in Goma, capital of North Kivu province in eastern DRC, killing at least 18 people. On May 19, several dozen armed men in Kinshasa, DRC’s capital city, attempted an apparent coup d’état, killing several security officials and successfully breaking into the presidential palace before eventually being arrested and, in some instances, summarily executed. As observers have noted, Congolese security forces’ sluggish response and summary executions are both indicative of the urgent need for security sector reform.

There are many steps that the United States could take in response to an increasingly devastating situation in the DRC. Most of these potential efforts center on the DRC and the broader region, including steps to pressure Rwanda to cease supporting M23 and withdraw its troops from eastern DRC. But domestically, the Biden administration can immediately protect thousands of Congolese who live in the United States, including those who lack legal status. Namely, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should urgently designate the DRC for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). 

Civilians in different parts of the DRC have contended with humanitarian crises and violence for decades. But in the current context of metastasizing armed conflicts, flooding, and new levels of displacement, no part of the country is safe for return. By designating the DRC for TPS, the Biden administration can protect thousands of Congolese civilians from deportation to a country where their lives are at risk.

TPS: A Key Form of “Safe Haven”

TPS offers a “blanket form of humanitarian relief” for nationals from countries where return is no longer safe. More specifically, the DHS Secretary has the authority to designate countries for TPS when at least one of the following three conditions are met: 

  1. there is an “ongoing armed conflict within the state” which “would pose a serious threat” to anyone deported to the State; 
  2. “extraordinary and temporary conditions” exist that could prevent safe returns to the State; and
  3. there is an “environmental disaster” or “epidemic” that prevents the State from safely handling returns in addition to a request for TPS from the State itself. 

These criteria are disjunctive rather than conjunctive. In other words, if any one of the above three conditions are met, the State in question has satisfied the statutory requirements for TPS.

In recent years, the United States has designated countries including Myanmar, Ukraine, and Ethiopia for TPS. Once their countries are designated, individuals from TPS-designated countries can apply to be a beneficiary, which protects them from deportation and allows them to obtain work and travel authorization.

According to, a bipartisan political advocacy organization, there are approximately 17,000 Congolese individuals in the United States who would potentially qualify for TPS protection. Many of these individuals currently live with U.S. citizens, including an estimated 8,000 children.      

Beyond protection from deportation, TPS would offer other vital benefits, including access to a work permit and a travel document. Nils Kinuani, Immigration Coordinator for the Congolese Community of Washington Metropolitan, explained that many Congolese immigrants in the United States have few economic opportunities without work authorization. 

“Our community has lots of talent. Every day, I get calls from Congolese doctors, lawyers, engineers living in the U.S., many of whom had careers in the DRC. They want to work, but their asylum cases drag on for years and some have not gotten work permits. The situation really pains me,” he said. “TPS will allow our community to contribute and protect people from deportation to dangerous circumstances.”

TPS does not provide a path for legal permanent residency or citizenship. However, it would not preclude Congolese individuals from applying for asylum, work or education visas, or “any other immigration benefit or protection for which [they] may be eligible” on an individual basis. 

More generally, the immediate-term benefits of TPS for the Congolese community in the United States are substantial. For those who have not received work authorization, TPS could provide an immediate opportunity to support themselves and their families. For those without travel authorization, TPS could allow them to leave the country, including for work or to visit family. And most importantly, for any Congolese person in the United States – regardless of immigration status – TPS offers vital protection from deportation to a country where return is not safe.

A Deadly Combination of Armed Conflicts, Humanitarian Crises, and Natural Disasters Make the DRC a Clear Case for TPS

Current conditions in the DRC potentially satisfy all three of the TPS criteria. Civilians face devastating armed conflicts, environmental disasters, and ongoing epidemics. The country is grappling with one of the world’s most complex humanitarian catastrophes, a rapidly worsening crisis characterized by widespread hunger, disease, sexual and gender-based violence, and one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world. At present, Congolese individuals deported to any part of the DRC could find their lives at risk. 

Ongoing Armed Conflicts Across the DRC 

Multiple armed conflicts are currently raging in eastern and western areas of the DRC, including a conflict predominantly fought between M23 – with the support of neighboring Rwanda – and the Congolese military (FARDC). In early March, M23 seized Nyanzale, a town in the DRC’s North Kivu province. Approximately 80 miles from Goma, Nyanzale had become home to thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), many of whom had already fled fighting in other areas. At least 15 civilians were killed in shelling attacks during M23’s takeover of the city, while at least 100,000 people fled their homes due to the fighting. Two months later, in early May, M23 took control of Rubaya, a strategic mining town with major deposits of coltan, a key mineral in the production of smartphones, electric vehicles, and the green transition more broadly. 

These escalations represent only two of the most recent developments in a devastating armed conflict that began in November 2021, when M23 forces attacked a remote FARDC military post. The conflict has since expanded. Often operating alongside the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF), M23 has taken over huge swaths of North Kivu province. In response, the Congolese government has partnered with a constellation of actors, including foreign mercenaries, neighboring States, and a coalition of Congolese armed groups known as the Wazalendo. Efforts to resolve the conflict – including international negotiations, the deployment of a regional force under the East African Community (2022-2023), and the deployment of another regional force under the South African Development Community (2023-present) – have been largely unsuccessful. Aggressive rhetoric from DRC President Félix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, as well as instances of cross-border attacks between Congolese and Rwandan forces, could signal greater escalations in the months ahead. During the DRC presidential campaign in December 2023, Tshisekedi threatened to “march on Kigali,” Rwanda’s capital, while Kagame claimed that a country which sought Rwanda’s destruction “will experience it instead.” 

The consequences for civilians have been disastrous. Since the beginning of the M23 conflict, approximately 1.5 million people have been displaced, bringing the number of IDPs in the country from under 6 million in 2022 to over 7 million today. Many IDPs live in makeshift IDP camps with inadequate access to food, water, healthcare, or education. Sexual and gender-based violence is widespread. Poor sanitation has led to the spread of diseases, including cholera and measles. The city of Goma, which previously had a population of approximately 1.5 million, has seen an estimated 700,000 new arrivals over the past two years. Largely cut off from the rest of the country due to M23’s advance, Goma has seen massive price increases and shortages of basic necessities, placing growing numbers of civilians in extreme food insecurity. 

In addition to M23, other armed groups in the eastern DRC are responsible for horrific violations, including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, kidnapping, forced recruitment, and extortion. CODECO, a constellation of armed groups in Ituri province, has committed many ethnically motivated massacres. Recent attacks include a massacre at an IDP camp in June 2023, in which 45 civilians were killed, and an ambush in February 2024, in which 15 people were tortured and killed. Civilians must also contend with the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that has killed thousands of civilians since 2014. ADF perpetrated several massacres in February 2024 alone. More than 1.6 million people are internally displaced in Ituri, largely due to armed group violence perpetrated by CODECO, ADF, and other armed actors.

Though conflict in the DRC is often associated with its eastern provinces, other parts of the country have also been affected. Since 2022, for example, intercommunal violence has engulfed substantial parts of western DRC, including areas close to Kinshasa, the country’s capital. Long-simmering tensions related to taxation and land ownership exploded into violence following the injury of a farmer during tax collection in the province of Mai-Ndombe. Since August 2023, the Mobondo – an armed group – have gained control of substantial territory stretching across multiple provinces. At least 160,000 individuals have fled their homes in western DRC since 2022 due to the violence, while at least 3,000 individuals were killed in these areas between July 2022 and June 2023. 

Given the spread of conflicts, an individual returning to any part of the DRC could face serious security risks. As Jean-Mobert Senga, DRC Researcher at Amnesty International, explained, “No part of the country has been spared by conflict, including provinces in the west, south, and north of the country. We have entered one of the bleakest chapters of Congolese history.” 

Armed conflicts alone could potentially constitute the “extraordinary and temporary conditions” – in the words of the TPS statute – that would “prevent the safe return” of Congolese nationals to the DRC. However, the country also faces unprecedented humanitarian and displacement crises, spiraling sexual and gender-based violence, and growing human rights violations. 

Humanitarian Displacement and Human Rights Violations 

As noted, more than 7 million individuals in the DRC are internally displaced. More than 23 million Congolese people face acute food insecurity and more than 2.5 million children are acutely malnourished. Epidemics continue to devastate communities, including an estimated 50,000 suspected cases of cholera in 2023. Congolese communities also contend with malaria, bubonic plague, and yellow fever, while there is a continued risk of an Ebola resurgence in western and eastern parts of the country. 

Congolese women and girls – as well as men and boys – have faced high levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) for decades. But increases in conflict have exacerbated these trends. The United Nations reported in 2023, for example, that armed groups in DRC “sexually assaulted civilians so as to drive them from contested areas” and used sexual violence to punish civilians “for perceived collaboration with rival armed groups or with State forces.” The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) similarly stressed that “sexual violence has soared in Eastern DRC in 2023,” noting that women and girls reported being at risk of rape and sexual assault, a risk heightened by the need to leave IDP camps “in search of supplies for their basic needs.” UNICEF reported a 41 percent increase in “grave violations” against children in the first half of 2023 compared with the same period in 2022, including sexual violence. 

Other human rights violations are also widespread. The Congolese government declared martial law in North Kivu and Ituri provinces in 2021 in an effort to combat armed groups, which has resulted in a dramatic deterioration of the human rights situation in both areas. More broadly, authorities across the DRC have arbitrarily arrested critics, launched abusive prosecutions, prohibited peaceful demonstrations and, in some instances, violently beat demonstrators. Journalists and activists regularly face arrest, intimidation and violence from state security forces.

In August 2023, Congolese troops in Goma massacred more than 50 members of a religious sect planning a demonstration against MONUSCO (the U.N. peacekeeping mission deployed in the country for over two decades) as well as the East African Community force. Though shocking in scope, the killing is indicative of the fact that Congolese security forces often represent a threat to the very civilians they are meant to protect

Environmental Disasters 

Finally, the DRC has faced, as the TPS statute puts it, “environmental disaster[s]” and “epidemic[s]” that have resulted “in…substantial, but temporary, disruption[s] of living conditions in the area[s] affected.” As of February 2024, 18 of the country’s 26 provinces had been affected by flooding due to rainfall, leaving more than 2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 300 people have died and approximately 500,000 people have been displaced due to recent flooding. The destruction of crops could exacerbate the DRC’s ongoing hunger crisis, while continued flooding could contribute to the spread of cholera.

Flooding in the DRC is often followed by mudslides and landslides. In May 2023, for example, flooding and mudslides in South Kivu province led to the deaths of more than 440 people and widespread displacement. In December 2023, mudslides in a different part of South Kivu resulted in 40 deaths. In the same month, landslides triggered by torrential rainfall in the province of Kasai-Centrale – in southern DRC – killed more than 20 people and swept away more than a dozen houses.

Climate hazards are not limited to flooding. The U.S. Agency for International Development has noted, for instance, that potential consequences of climate change in the DRC include more frequent and more powerful heat waves, more intense rain, and an increase in droughts. All of these changes risk intensifying the DRC’s ongoing food crisis. As the World Food Programme (WFP) observed, “The climate crisis is multiplying catastrophic weather-related events and is straining food systems which causes hunger to rise in DRC.” 

Confronting these challenges demands significant resources. But the Congolese government is dependent on woefully insufficient international aid – only 37% of the UN’s coordinated Humanitarian Response Plan for the DRC was funded in 2023 – and has struggled to provide for its most vulnerable citizens, nearly a quarter of whom require humanitarian assistance. In the language of the TPS statute, the State is almost certainly “unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return” of additional Congolese nationals from the United States. Additionally, environmental disasters and epidemics could also constitute elements of the “extraordinary and temporary conditions” criteria discussed above.     

TPS can Protect Thousands of Congolese in the United States

The DRC is precisely the kind of context for which TPS is intended. Armed conflicts surge across the country. An already dire humanitarian crisis has reached stunning dimensions, as the country contends with exceptional levels of displacement largely caused by conflicts and environmental disasters. In the language of the TPS statute, any Congolese individual returned to any part the country could face “serious threat[s] to their personal safety.” Under-resourced and often abusive, the DRC government likely cannot “adequately handle” the return of Congolese nationals from the United States. As Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) recognized in a 2023 letter signed by 52 additional members of Congress, “[T]he armed conflict and humanitarian crisis [in the DRC] warrant an immediate designation of Temporary Protected Status …. The U.S. has a moral obligation to uphold its promise to vulnerable Congolese, and protect them from being deported to fatal conditions.” 

TPS cannot solve the myriad challenges facing the DRC. But by designating the DRC for TPS, the Biden administration can immediately protect thousands of Congolese individuals, add talented individuals to the U.S. workforce at a time of low unemployment, avoid overtaxing a country facing multiple debilitating crises, and keep families together and safe in the United States.  

IMAGE: A motorcyclist carries soldiers as others patrol the area in Kibumba that was attacked by M23 rebels in clashes with the Congolese army, near the town of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, June 1, 2022. (Photo by GUERCHOM NDEBO/AFP via Getty Images)