Congolese refugees from troubled Ituri district living in poor conditions along Ugandan lake
KAMPALA, Uganda, May 16 (UNHCR) - A joint UN/Uganda assessment team has found large numbers of Congolese refugees living in poor conditions along the shores of Lake Albert in Uganda after fleeing ethnic clashes in the north-eastern Congolese district of Ituri. The Ugandan government has designated an existing site for those needing assistance.
Over the last two days, the 10-member team, composed of UNHCR, the UN World Food Programme and Ugandan government officials, travelled to the border regions of south-western Uganda and visited four fishing villages along the southern shores of Lake Albert, which separates the country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Some of the villages were flooded and accessible only by boat. The team found groups of Congolese refugees camping under makeshift canopies. Some were sleeping in the open. Generally, sanitary conditions were poor, with one case of cholera reportedly being diagnosed at Ntoroko village.
Initial indications have suggested that the number of recent arrivals in Uganda may be less alarming than previous reports of a 60,000-strong influx following massacres in Ituri district. But aid workers warn that what they saw was only a portion of the reported arrivals, with more refugees having reportedly settled further inland.
The agency will continue to assess the presence of refugees in the northern parts of Lake Albert by travelling to Nebbi district this weekend.
The refugees at the four fishing villages the team visited said they had fled the seriously deteriorating situation in and around Bunia, the capital of Ituri district. Many said they walked three days to reach the border with Uganda, sometimes following retreating soldiers of the Ugandan Patriotic Defence Forces (UPDF) for protection.
One boy said his two brothers were killed in violent clashes between the Hema and Lendu ethnic communities.
The Ugandan government has designated Kyaka II refugee settlement, in nearby Kongongo district, as the site where Congolese refugees can receive assistance. UNHCR is exploring ways of transferring needy refugees there.