Displaced refugees in Uganda start move to permanent site

Two convoys have transferred more than 3,000 out of the 8,000 refugees at Kiryandongo slated for relocation to Kyangwali camp. In the meantime, the UN refugee agency is negotiating with the government for a safe site for the remaining 14,000 refugees.

Of the 22,000 refugees who have gathered at Kiryandongo since the August attack on Achol-Pii camp, 8,000 are headed for a permanent camp at Kyangwali.   © UNHCR/S.Mann

KAMPALA, Uganda, September 9 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has started the final phase of relocating 8,000 refugees displaced after an August rebel attack on a refugee camp in Uganda. At the same time, it is negotiating with the government for a new site for some 14,000 uprooted refugees still hosted at a transit site.

The August 5 attack on Achol-Pii camp in northern Uganda by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) killed at least 50 people and sent thousands of Sudanese refugees fleeing into surrounding areas. UNHCR moved and gathered them at a transit site in Kiryandongo, western Uganda, where they are receiving food and shelter while awaiting their final relocation to an existing refugee camp in Kyangwali or to other sites being proposed by the government.

The final move started last Thursday, and the two convoys so far have transported 3,017 people from Kiryandongo to Kyangwali, close to Lake Albert, more than 200 km to the south-west. Another 5,000 are set to follow. With convoys scheduled to leave Kiryandongo twice a week, UNHCR expects to complete transfers to Kyangwali before September 20. The completed operation will bring the total number of former Achol-Pii refugees in Kyangwali to 8,000.

"The refugees transferring to Kyangwali are very positive about the move. They are happy to go southwards," said Juan Castro-Magluff, Acting UNHCR Representative in Uganda.

Last Saturday, Ugandan authorities were scheduled to start distributing nearly 340 plots of land to the first group of refugees to arrive in Kyangwali. Each family will receive a 0.6 hectare plot of land. Authorities will also provide food ration cards to the new arrivals after registration in the camp.

According to the Ugandan government, Kyangwali, which is already home to nearly 7,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, Rwanda and Kenya, has no room for further expansion.

To find a permanent site for the remaining 14,000 refugees at Kiryandongo, an assessment mission comprising UNHCR, the UN World Food Programme and Ugandan government officials travelled to Arua district on Sunday to assess areas proposed by the government. These include sites in Madi Okollo, close to the DRC/Uganda border and Ikafe in Yumbe district, both in Arua district, north-western Uganda. Both are undeveloped sites and would require the installation of basic infrastructure including reception centres, health facilities, structures for water and sanitation, schools and other social amenities.

Refugees who fled the now empty Achol-Pii refugee camp in Kitgum district of northern Uganda have remained apprehensive of the country's volatile northern districts. Thousands of people have been killed in these areas since LRA - a quasi-religious rebel group - launched its campaign against Yoweri Museveni's government in 1988. Hundreds of thousands more in the north have fled their homes in fear of rebel attacks on civilians and army positions. LRA - which seeks to run the country on the biblical 10 Commandments - has also been known to abduct children, conscripting boys into the rebel army and keeping girls as sex slaves for its commanders.

During a meeting between former Achol-Pii refugees, UNHCR and local authorities held in Kiryandongo on Sunday to discuss plans for the settlement of refugees not transferring to Kyangwali, refugees raised concerns for security in the northern districts.

"There are some concerns expressed by refugees about going to sites in the north," said UNHCR's Castro-Magluff.

He added that UNHCR had discussed with the government some of the agency's concerns about the proposed sites. Further consultations would be held with the government upon the return of the assessment team that is expected back in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, at the end of the week.