Uganda: Condition of Congolese arrivals poor, Ituri region fighting cited
Several thousand Congolese refugees have arrived in Uganda in recent days, saying they are fleeing fighting in the Ituri region of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people have made their way across Lake Albert by boat to the village of Nkondo, some 285 km from Kampala in the west of the country. The majority are women and children, many in poor health and in immediate need of assistance. They are stuck at the bottom of a sharp escarpment on the shores of the lake, accessible only by small trucks down a very precarious road. Most of the refugees are not strong enough for the three-hour walk up the escarpment.
UNHCR dispatched emergency relief items, including blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets, soap and plastic rolls from our warehouse in Kampala to Nkondo, where we are setting up a temporary transit centre. We have contacted other UN agencies to help provide food and sanitation, and are negotiating with the local authorities to set up a water tank at the centre. At the moment, refugees are drinking water from the lake, at great risk to their health.
Yesterday (Thursday), we got reports of another 10,000 new arrivals in Ishaka, further north along the border with DRC. A UNHCR team is now in Ishaka to gather more information. Another team is in Kyaka (pr: 'Tchaka'), a settlement for Congolese refugees in western Uganda, to assess the possibilities of providing shelter there to the newcomers. UNHCR plans a first transfer of some 600 people to Kyaka tomorrow (Saturday). The move presents great logistical problems; roads and infrastructure in the area are poor, and the trip from the border takes at least six hours. UNHCR is also very worried about the water situation, both in the border area and in Kyaka, where there is barely enough water now for the current population.
It is not clear yet why the refugees fled DRC. The refugees say there is fighting in their villages between the Hema and the Lendu, two ethnic groups in the Ituri region of eastern DRC. According to MONUC, the United Nations Peacekeeping mission in Congo, there has been a recent surge of fighting in the region between two rival militia groups, the FNI and UPC-L.
Uganda is home to some 200,000 refugees. Before this most recent influx, just under 10,000 of them were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and most of the others from Sudan.