Some 13,000 Congolese flee to Uganda as violence flares in Rutshuru

News Stories, 27 November 2008

© UNHCR/J.Akena
Dozens of Congolese refugees wait to be processed at Ishasha in Uganda.

KAMPALA, Uganda, November 27 (UNHCR) Thousands of civilians have fled to Uganda over the past 48 hours to escape fresh fighting and brutal attacks on their villages in the Congolese province of North Kivu by armed assailants. More are on the way.

UNHCR staff at the south-west Ugandan border town of Ishasha said that since Tuesday afternoon an estimated 13,000 Congolese refugees had crossed the border from the eastern province's Rutshuru district, including some 10,000 on Thursday.

The new arrivals bring to some 27,000 the number of Congolese civilians who have fled into Uganda since August to escape violence in the Rutshuru area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Fighting between government troops and rebel fighters has displaced 250,000 people throughout the province since August.

The four members of UNHCR's emergency response team in Ishasha have been trying to arrange the transportation of the refugees to the safety of Nakivale settlement, located some 350 kilometres to the east.

"The stream of new arrivals continues. More and more people are arriving and we need to transport them away from the border to a safe place immediately," said Yumiko Takashima, the leader of the UNHCR emergency team.

A convoy of nine buses and one truck left for Nakivale on Thursday morning carrying around 1,000 people. A smaller first convoy left on Wednesday. UNHCR was hoping to transport several thousand more on Friday.

Most of the new arrivals at Ishasha have asked the Ugandan district authorities and UNHCR to relocate them to Nakivale. Some refugees who have entered Uganda further to the south have opted to stay with local host families because their villages are close by, unlike the arrivals in Ishasha.

The new arrivals told the UNHCR team members that they were fleeing fresh fighting around the town of Rutshuru, which is located some 70 kilometres north of the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma. The refugees came from Rutshuru town and the villages of Kafeguru, Kiseguru, Kiwanga and Kinyandonge.

Many people said their villages had been attacked and atrocities committed. "The assailants killed everybody in my village. They took the young boys with them and killed all the rest of the population. It's a miracle that my wife and I managed to escape," said 25-year-old Daudi, who walked 60 kilometres from the village of Kiwanga to reach the border. He added that one of his two children had become separated from the family during the chaos of their flight and he did not know if the boy was still alive.

Another villager, 20-year-old Jean, said he walked for three days to reach Uganda on Thursday. "The rebels attacked my village. They killed all the women, even pregnant women," he said, adding: "I'm exhausted. I just want to be safe."

With the latest influx, Uganda hosts more than 150,000 refugees, including over 50,000 from the DRC. Other refugees come from countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and the Sudan.

By Roberta Russo in Kampala, Uganda