Thousands of Congolese flee to Uganda to escape final push on M23

Briefing Notes, 5 November 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 5 November 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province, the fighting of the last days between the rebel M23 group and government troops has seen an estimated 10,000 people fleeing across the border at Bunagana into south-west Uganda's Kisoro district.

UNHCR staff in the border area reported early yesterday that bombs were falling very close to the border point that separates Bunagana town on the Uganda side from the rest of the town, which is in the DRC. Thousands of panicked people ran across the border, some carrying belongings, others with nothing.

Amid the shelling some areas in Uganda were also hit. Many local residents closed their homes and shops and moved away from the border area. Refugees arriving at the Nyakabande Transit Centre, some 20 kilometres away, told us that they had seen bodies on the DRC side. Sixteen 16 refugees and one Ugandan were taken to hospital in nearby Kisoro, where they are receiving treatment for minor shrapnel injuries. Our health partner, Medical Teams International (MTI), is supporting the hospital with medical supplies.

At 9am yesterday, we began transporting refugees from the border to the Nyakabande transit centre. As of last night 3,624 people had been moved, the largest number in a single day since the fighting between the government and the M23 began in April last year.

Many refugees are also making their own way by foot to the transit centre. People are out in the open and the weather in Kisoro is cold and rainy.

There are now around 8,230 people in the transit centre. We are providing them with shelter, emergency relief items, and food supplied by WFP. Many of the new arrivals are suffering from dehydration and diarrhoea. MTI has set up an oral rehydration tent at the registration point where refugees arrive and all new arrivals are screened by medical staff.

We currently have enough emergency relief items for a population of 10,000. In addition to several hundred family tents, there are 11 communal shelters which each hold about 300 people. A 12th is being erected that will accommodate 600 people. However, supplying water to the transit centre remains a challenge as water pressure in the district is very low and we are working to connect an additional pipeline. We are also facing shortages in surgical supplies due to the high number of injured we have received.

The majority of the new arrivals, around 60 per cent, are young children, and many have been separated from their parents while running from the border. So far we have received more than 100 children arriving on their own and we are housing them in separate tents, providing extra items and assisting them in getting food.

The situation back in eastern DRC remains tense and volatile with no one prepared to return and people still crossing. Security officials report that the town of Bunagana is empty of civilians. As of this morning we are moving people by bus from Nyakabande to a refugee settlement at Rwamwanja, to the north. There they will receive more comprehensive assistance.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi: Kitty McKinsey (Regional), on mobile +254 735 337 608
  • In Nyakabande: Lucy Beck, on mobile +256 772 710 137
  • In Kampala: Karen Ringuette, on mobile +256 772 701 115
  • In Geneva: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
  • Leo Dobbs, on mobile: +41 79 883 6347



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.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Jean de Dieu, from the Central African Republic (CAR), was on his way to market in mid-January when he was shot. The 24-year-old shepherd and his family had fled their country two months earlier and sought refuge on an island in the Oubangui River belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes Jean crossed back to check on his livestock, but last week his luck ran out when he went to take an animal to market. A few hours later, in an improvised operating room in Dula, a Congolese border town on the banks of the Oubangui, medics fight to save his life.

Jean's situation is not unique. Over the past two years, war in the Central African Republic has driven more than 850,000 people from their homes. Many have been attacked as they fled, or killed if they tried to return. In neighbouring DRC, medical resources are being stretched to their limits.

Photographer Brian Sokol, on assignment for UNHCR, captured the moment when Jean and others were rushed into the operating theatre. His images bear witness to desperation, grief, family unity and, ultimately, a struggle for survival.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province have long referred to the region between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto as the "triangle of death." Despite the presence of UN peace-keepers and government military successes in other parts of the country, the situation in the resources-rich Katanga has been getting worse over the past two years. Conflict between a secessionist militia group and the government and between the Luba (Bantu) and Twa (Pygmy) ethnic groups has left thousands dead and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 people since 2012, including over 70,000 in the last three months. UNHCR has expressed its "deep concern" about the "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in northern Katanga. The violence includes widescale looting and burning of entire villages and human rights' violations such as murder, mass rape and other sexual violence, and the forced military recruitment of children.

The limited presence of humanitarian and development organizations is a serious problem, leading to insufficient assistance to displaced people who struggle to have access to basic services. There are 28 sites hosting the displaced in northern Katanga and many more displaced people live in host communities. While UNHCR has built some 1,500 emergency shelters since January, more is needed, including access to health care, potable water, food and education. The following striking photographs by Brian Sokol for UNHCR show some of the despair and suffering.

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

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