UNHCR moves Congolese refugees away from the border to Ugandan settlements
KAMPALA, Uganda, Jan. 26 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has moved some 1,100 Congolese refugees who fled to Uganda last week following fighting in their homeland to two refugee settlements a safe distance from the border.
For the past few days, UNHCR and the Ugandan authorities have been working around the clock to prepare Nakivale settlement to receive several thousand of the recently-arrived refugees. Nakivale, located in the Isingoro district of Uganda some 220 kilometres south-west of Kampala, was already home to about 16,000 refugees, 70 percent of them Rwandans.
Like many of Uganda's settlements, Nakivale has plenty of lush and fertile land, so space is not a problem. But water supplies are limited and more houses need to be built. A reception centre has been set up and staff deployed to receive the newcomers.
"One of the first priorities was to clearly delineate plots of land for the newcomers," UNHCR's acting representative in Kampala, Montserrat Feixas Vihe said. "We have also set up a mobile clinic next to the reception centre, but we will need to expand the health facilities in the settlement. We also have to make sure that there are teachers and space in the schools for the children."
A small group of 66 people with special needs - mostly disabled people and pregnant women - arrived in Nakivale on Wednesday, followed on Thursday by a group of 898 refugees whom UNHCR moved from the border district of Kisoro. More arrivals to the settlement are expected in the next few days.
Further to the north, another group of 201 refugees were taken Thursday from the border hamlet of Ishasha, in the district of Kanungu, to the existing settlement of Kyaka II.
The refugees had arrived in Uganda at two different locations along the western border after fleeing fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In the space of a few days, thousands of people crossed into Uganda, reaching a total of some 20,000 last weekend.
The largest group made its way to Nyakabanda in Kisoro district, some 450 kilometres south-west of Kampala. At the height of the crisis, an estimated 15,000 people had taken refuge in and around the small border town. Many have now gone back to DRC, where fighting appears to have abated.
But cross-border movements continue. Another 2,000 persons arrived in Uganda on Wednesday night, then crossed back to DRC on Thursday morning. It is difficult to estimate how many refugees were still in the area after Thursday's transfer of almost 900 people to Nakivale.
UNHCR has set up a small clinic in Nyakabanda, as well as 14 temporary shelters, enough to house all the newcomers. The World Food Programme supplied some high-protein biscuits and the water supply is adequate. The refugees' situation, however, remains precarious.
"In any refugee emergency, we always try to move refugees from the border as quickly as possible," Feixas Vihe explained, "and this is what we are trying to do now by taking people to Nakivale. But many of the refugees have told us they do not wish to leave the border area. They want to stay there to be able to go back to their homes quickly once the fighting stops."
In the border hamlet of Ishasha, where a smaller group of some 5,000 people arrived at the weekend, there are now no refugees left. Most have chosen to go back to DRC, and only 201 asked to be moved to Kyaka II settlement where they arrived Thursday. The local authorities have told UNHCR they will alert the refugee agency of any new arrivals.
Uganda is already home to some 208,000 refugees, including 168,800 Sudanese, 20,200 Congolese, and 15,600 Rwandans. The refugee agency remains concerned about the volatile situation in the eastern part of DRC and its effect on the population.
In addition to refugees fleeing across the border, large numbers of people are reported to have been internally displaced within the DRC because of recent fighting in eastern Congo - notably in North Kivu province. The vast majority of DRC's 1.6 million internally displaced persons are in the eastern provinces.