UNHCR closes chapter on Uganda's internally displaced people

Briefing Notes, 6 January 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 6 January 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The UN refugee agency has ended its assistance to nearly 2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Uganda as the vast majority have returned home.

Last week, we closed the UNHCR office in Gulu, northern Uganda after five years of assisting and protecting people displaced by fighting between the Ugandan army and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. At the conflict's peak in 2005, there were 1.84 million IDPs living in 251 camps across 11 districts of northern Uganda.

Since the warring parties signed an agreement to cease hostilities in 2006, almost all IDPs have returned to their villages on their own. UNHCR opened its Gulu office in 2006, focusing on camp management and the protection of IDPs. The agency has since helped 11,600 of the most vulnerable IDPs to either return home or to integrate where they are. This involves resolving land issues, building huts and latrines for needy individuals, providing a start-up kit and support safety net in the form of blankets, kitchen sets, livestock, seeds and tools.

For the wider returnee community, UNHCR has provided basic reintegration help, providing safe water, building roads, schools, health centres, police posts and other infrastructure.

Some 30,000 displaced Ugandans are still living in four remaining camps, as well as former camps, transit centres and in local communities. 247 IDP camps have been closed after making sure that the land was cleaned up and rehabilitated before being handed back to the original owners.

Further actions and interventions on behalf of the returned IDPs have now been integrated into the government's long-term development and recovery programmes so as to ensure that the transition from humanitarian/relief to recovery/development efforts is as seamless as possible, and in order to maintain the sustainability of returns. UNHCR has also handed over its protection role to the Uganda Human Rights Commission, which now handles issues related to IDPs' land and human rights.

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A Time Between: Moving on from Internal Displacement in Uganda

This document examines the situation of IDPs in Acholiland in northern Uganda, through the stories of individuals who have lived through conflict and displacement.

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

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Uganda: Sudanese Refugees Flee Rebel Attacks

On August 5, 2002, some 24,000 Sudanese refugees fled their homes in Achol-Pii camp in northern Uganda after a bloody attack by the Lord's Liberation Army rebel group. More than 60 refugees and many local villagers were killed in the attack.

Fearing further violence, displaced refugees trekked overnight to Lira, from where UNHCR trucked them to Kiryondongo, 100 km to the south-west. Kiryondongo site, a settlement already hosting 13,000 refugees, was temporarily extended to accommodate the Achol-Pii survivors until another site could be prepared.

Arriving families were initially accommodated at an expanded reception centre at Kiryondongo. After being registered, the new arrivals received UNHCR plastic sheeting, an emergency food ration and a 20 x 15-metre plot per family to build their own temporary shelter. UNHCR also distributed blankets and jerry cans. Additional latrines were also dug, new water pumps installed and a new emergency clinic was set up.

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The Nyakabande Transit Centre in southern Uganda was reopened by UNHCR and the Ugandan government in February 2012 to cope with a growing number of Congolese civilians crossing the border to escape general lawlessness in Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) North Kivu province. Initially designed to cope with 500 people, the transit centre has been swamped with new arrivals fleeing waves of violence since April between DRC government forces and fighters from the rebel M23 movement. UNHCR helped expand capacity to 11,000 people and arranged transport from the border, but the inflow placed a severe strain on the facilities. The centre has registered and assisted more than 51,000 people since January, most of them from North Kivu. At its peak, last July, the transit centre was hosting more than 10,000 refugees. In a bid to decongest the centre, UNHCR provided transport for more than 30,000 Congolese to the refugee settlement at Rwamwanja, some 350 kilometres to the north of Nyakabande. For many of those fleeing eastern DRC, Nyakabande was a beacon of hope and a haven from the storm convulsing their home region. The latest fighting in North Kivu in November has not had much of an impact, but people still arrive daily.

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After three years of relative peace, waves of combat erupted again in Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province in April 2012, causing major population displacement. Fighting in North Kivu's Rutshuru territory between government forces and rebel fighters from the M23 movement caused tens of thousands of Congolese civilians to seek shelter across the border in Uganda, mainly in the Kisoro district. Many joined UNHCR-organized convoys to the settlement of Rwamwanja, which was opened last April to deal with the influx. By the end of 2012, the settlement was hosting more than 30,000 refugees. Each refugee family is given a plot of land on which to construct a home and plant crops and encouraged to become self-sufficient. UNHCR wants to urgently improve infrastructure at the settlement and has appealed for supplementary funding.

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