UNHCR begins moving Congolese refugees from transit centre to settlement in Uganda

Briefing Notes, 16 August 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 16 August 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Together with the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), on Wednesday we moved the first 864 refugees from Bubukwanga Transit Centre in Bundibugyo District to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, a 10-hour drive to the northeast. There they will receive more comprehensive assistance such as building materials and household items to set up homes for themselves. So far, more than 5,600 refugees have been registered, and the vast majority more than 80 per cent have expressed their willingness to move to the refugee settlement.

The move went smoothly on Wednesday with the help of OPM and the Ugandan Red Cross Society. Refugees received water and WFP biscuits on departure and bananas at Kyenjojo way station. Though several buses experienced mechanical problems, the convoy arrived safely in Kyangwali around 18:30.

The Bubukwanga Transit Centre was established on 14 July to accommodate those refugees wishing to move away from the border and access basic assistance and protection. Although a temporary safe haven for those who fled attacks, the transit centre has become congested with close to 20,000 refugees staying in a space of 10.5 hectares designed to accommodate no more than 12,500 people. UNHCR site-planning and shelter experts say the situation poses serious safety and hygiene concerns.

With the onset of the wet season in Uganda, heavy rain has damaged some communal shelters. Bundibugyo District is in a mountainous area and the cold, wet conditions are also responsible for a significant rise in the number of respiratory-tract infections, now the most common ailment at the transit centre. The rain also hampers the delivery of humanitarian aid. For example, roads within the transit centre become impassable for trucks carrying clean water or food for the refugees.

Despite overcrowding, refugees continue to arrive daily at the transit centre. Many now make their own way there on motorbikes or on foot from the border more than 20 kilometres away. Some refugees continue to report low-level fighting and instability in DRC. Others who have been staying at the border and crossing back and forth to gather food during the day say they are now too frightened to return after hearing reports of people being kidnapped by armed groups.

UNHCR and its partners on the ground are actively seeking funding for this emergency to assist refugees at the Bubukwanga Transit Centre as well as those moving to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. An emergency regional appeal launched by UNHCR in March for refugees from eastern DRC is critically underfunded with only 45 per cent of the required USD 22.2 million received to date for the Uganda component. Meanwhile, the new influx of refugees means UNHCR has revised its requirements from the initial USD 22.2 million to USD 43.6 million.

The first relocation of refugees from Bubukwanga Transit Centre to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement will now be followed by twice-weekly convoys carrying some 1,000 people each.

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