Congolese refugees return home from Uganda as fighting subsides
KISORO, Uganda, December 8 (UNHCR) - Several thousand Congolese refugees who fled to Uganda have returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after the fighting that panicked them earlier this week eased.
UNHCR teams reported from the town of Kisoro in south-west Uganda that around 12,000 people - mainly women and children - had crossed the border to escape fighting between DRC government forces and rebels some 100 kilometres north of the town of Goma in North Kivu province.
Several thousand returned as soon as the fighting subsided and others are now following, the UNHCR staff members said, adding that there were only about 4,000 Congolese refugees left in the district. No new arrivals were reported, while the situation in Kisoro was described as calm.
"I've heard shelling and I've seen nothing but war and violence in my life in the past 20 years, so I decided to go," said 20-year-old Mukinjo, a father of four from North Kivu, whose wife was being treated in Kisoro hospital for shrapnel wounds suffered when a stray shell landed near the border on Wednesday.
Most of the Congolese refugees are accommodated in local schools and churches, but many are also spending the nights sleeping on the porches of private houses. UNHCR, and other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations operating in the area, are coordinating a response with the local authorities over water, sanitation and shelter issues.
"People are exhausted, but we have been able to respond expeditiously to the emergency," said Mostafa Khezry, a senior UNHCR protection officer.
Some 1,993 refugees have moved to a site south of Kisoro at Nyakabanda, where UNHCR is working with the Ugandan Red Cross to install latrines and basic shelter. The water supply has been operational since Wednesday and the Kisoro district health authorities have started vaccinating refugee children for measles, polio and tetanus.
Local authorities from the DRC visited Kisoro on Wednesday and encouraged refugees to return home. Almost all the Congolese are from villages close to the border with Uganda and have expressed their intention to return to the DRC as soon as conditions permit.
A similar influx of Congolese refugees took place in January and February this year when some 17,000 people entered Uganda. The majority of these refugees returned to their homes as soon as the situation stabilised, but some 3,500 remained in Uganda and were subsequently moved to Nakevale refugee settlements.
There are some 23,000 Congolese refugees in Uganda. Most of them fled from the DRC during the decades of civil war.