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Uganda: Situation in DRC's Kivu region volatile - thousands of Congolese have fled

Briefing notes

Uganda: Situation in DRC's Kivu region volatile - thousands of Congolese have fled

24 January 2006

We have a rapidly changing situation in western Uganda as a result of fighting over recent days in the Kivu region of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Some 20,000 Congolese refugees had arrived in western Uganda by last weekend, fleeing actual fighting or fears of fighting. By Monday afternoon, about 7,000 of them had already gone back to the DRC, but we remain worried about the volatility of the situation in the Kivus. This is a region where people are used to crossing the border for temporary refuge, and we may still see greater numbers fleeing into Uganda.

We are now making preparations to receive several thousand of the recently-arrived refugees in Nakivale, an established refugee settlement in Isingoro district of Uganda. While space is available for newcomers, water supplies are limited. We also have to build more houses and expand health, sanitation and education services at Nakivale.

As of this morning, we have about 8,000 refugees in Kisoro, 450 km (280 miles) south-west of Kampala. After six or seven days living in the open, with no shelter, limited water and no food assistance, the Congolese refugees have grown restive.

Today we are setting up a small clinic as well as 10 large temporary shelters that can accommodate 3,000 to 4,000 people. We are also building communal latrines and a police post. We are distributing blankets to the most vulnerable refugees. The World Food Programme is supplying high-protein biscuits to everyone and will distribute more food tomorrow. We are working with other partners to supply medical aid and more drinking water.

However, a better solution is for them to move further inland to Nakivale, already home to about 16,000 refugees, 70 percent of whom are Rwandans. More than 5,000 people (5,278 individuals) now at Kisoro have told us they want to relocate to Nakivale because they do not trust the security in the Kivus.

There is another group, estimated at 5,000, in Uganda's Kanungu district, at the border hamlet of Ishasha. They want to stay near the border so they can easily go home if they feel it is safe to do so, and some have already gone back. Others are crossing back to their homes during the day to get food, but are spending the nights in Uganda. Only about 300 people from this group have asked to be relocated further inland, and we are discussing with the Ugandan government where to take them.

Today the Ugandan district authorities will start immunizing the Congolese at Ishasha. The community is building communal latrines and we are working with the local authorities to decongest the area to minimize the risk of a cholera outbreak.

Uganda is already home some 208,000 refugees, including 168,800 Sudanese, 20,200 Congolese, and 15,600 Rwandans.