Uganda: Surge in Congolese influx as fighting worsens in eastern DRC

Briefing Notes, 22 May 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 May 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Fighting late last week between Congolese government forces and renegade troops has forced a new influx of displaced people into southwest Uganda. According to Ugandan district officials a further 13,000-15,000 people have crossed the border over the past few days.

Our staff, accompanied by government officials handling refugees, visited the border town of Bunagana on Friday and found some 6,000-7,000 Congolese camping in the area, using local shelter and open space. They come from villages in North Kivu's Rutshuru territory. Many had already been displaced by earlier clashes in May.

UNHCR on Friday started to transport people from the border to a transit centre at Nyakabande. We took about 1,000 people on Friday and Saturday, while others made their own way. As of Sunday night, there were 6,163 at Nyakabande where capacity is increasingly stretched. We are providing basic aid.

To ease the congestion at Nyakabande UNHCR is stepping up transportation of those who are willing to go to the Rwamwanja settlement, about 370 kilometres, or an eight hour's drive, to the north.

On Monday morning, we moved 1,471 people by convoy to Rwamwanja and we plan more convoys on Thursday and Sunday, with each one taking 1,000-1,500 people. But many people wish to stay near the border in the hope that the on-off fighting will end and they can return home.

The recent fighting has also caused displacement inside North Kivu province, with at least 12,000 people registered as internally displaced in Jomba and Bwesa in Rutshuru territory between May 10 and May 15. Most of the displaced are staying with host families or living in school buildings.

In Rwanda, smaller numbers of Congolese continue to cross and make their way to the overstretched Nkamira transit camp, which currently hosts 9,006 people. 107 people went back to Congo over the weekend and we're keeping an eye on this trend.

Since April 27, when the current wave of clashes between Congolese armed forces and supporters of former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda broke out, tens of thousands of people have been displaced within North Kivu or to Uganda and Rwanda. Ntaganda joined the armed forces under the 2009 peace deal, but he is sought for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. UNHCR fears further mass displacement unless the rival sides are able to agree on peace.

Amid all this, UNHCR suffered the loss of a cherished colleague, Rocky Makabuza who was shot by assailants at his home in Goma late on Friday and died later. The motives for his killing have not been established. In a statement yesterday High Commissioner Guterres expressed his hope that the matter will be properly investigated and that those responsible will be brought to account.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

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  • Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
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