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Uganda: Up to 20,000 have arrived from DRC in the past week, more reported on way

Briefing notes

Uganda: Up to 20,000 have arrived from DRC in the past week, more reported on way

18 January 2005

Up to 20,000 refugees have arrived in Uganda from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the past week. The refugees entered Uganda at two crossing points along the western border, and the two groups appear to have fled DRC for reasons that are unrelated.

A group of 5,000 to 7,000 people arrived by boat across Lake Albert to the village of Nkondo, some 285 km west of Kampala in Hoima district. They say they left their homes in the DRC's Ituri region because of fighting between Hema and Lendu tribes.

Another group of 10,100 people, who arrived in Ishasha in Kanungo District further to the south near Lake Edward, say they fled the north Kivu region of DRC because of renewed fighting between RDC-Goma and the Mai Mai. We have received reports that more refugees are on their way.

On Saturday, UNHCR transferred 156 refugees from Nkondo to Kyaka II, a permanent settlement which until last week hosted 8,000 Congolese refugees and is now ready to receive another 10,000 people. Another 171 refugees have registered to move from Hoima to Kyaka II today. However, the majority of the newcomers are women and children who are reluctant to leave the border area until their husbands and fathers arrive. This is a source of concern to us, since there are serious health risks for the refugees in staying where they are. Many of them arrived in poor health condition, there is no sanitation at the site, and they are drinking water from the lake. Furthermore, the landing site is at the bottom of a sharp escarpment accessible only by small pick-up trucks down a very precarious road. Given the logistical constraints, it is not possible for UNHCR to provide more than basic assistance to this group, such as water, basic food rations and medical screening with the help of WFP and MSF-Holland, as well as the local authorities.

In Hoima itself, where some 2,000 refugees have arrived, the refugee agency has set up a transit centre in a school where water and shelter are available. UNICEF has provided 30 portable latrines for the transit centre, while a national NGO is helping to identify unaccompanied children.

A UNHCR team is travelling from Kyaka II to the second arrival site, Ishasha on the shores of Lake Edward, to work out the logistics of moving people to the settlement. In Ishasha itself, another UNHCR team is meeting this morning with the local authorities to set up a plan of action for the refugees. Our main concern is for the security of the refugees, since Ishasha is only three kilometres away from the border along an unmanned border post. We have requested that the Uganda authorities set up police and army posts near the site to protect the refugees. Furthermore, the district authorities have exhausted their supplies of food for the refugees. WFP has agreed to deliver high protein biscuits for those who move to Kyaka II and UNHCR is requesting that food distribution be extended to all the newcomers.