20 000 flee DRC violence, seek refuge in Uganda

About 20 000 people have fled violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to seek refuge in the border to Uganda over a four-day period, the United Nations refugee agency said on Sunday.

Most of the refugees told the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that they had fled to escape violence, while about 5 000 said they left the DRC because they feared attack. Most of them “were reported in good shape”, UNHCR said in a statement.

UNHCR teams have already been sent to the Uganda-DRC border in response to the arrival of the refugees, who have been arriving

since Thursday. About 15 000 of them are staying at an airfield at Kisoro, 450km southwest of Uganda’s capital Kampala, while the remainder—many of whom brought their own food and livestock—are at a border hamlet, UNHCR said.

“The most urgent concerns for both groups are the lack of drinking water, food, shelter and sanitation.
The vast majority of the refugees say they want to stay close to the border so they can return home to the DRC as soon as they feel it is safe to do so,” the agency said.

UNHCR and its partners are arranging to provide the refugees with drinking water, and items such as blankets, jerry cans and plastic sheets from the agency’s stockpiles.

“Those supplies will be made available if the refugees are unable to return home and decide to move into government-identified settlements further inside Uganda,” UNHCR said.

Ugandan authorities have identified 84 combatants who have been disarmed and are being kept apart from the civilian refugees.

Major fighting ended in thr DRC in 2002 but the situation remains dire because of continued insecurity, poor access to health care and inadequate international aid. The problems are particularly acute in eastern DRC.

There are more than 200 000 refugees in Uganda, mainly from Sudan and including 20 200 Congolese and 15 600 Rwandans, according to UNHCR. - Sapa-AP