Uganda: attacks force massive displacement of Sudanese refugees
In the aftermath of a series of attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, more than 25,000 Sudanese refugees fled their settlements and some 500 have actually crossed back into southern Sudan.
We understand from refugee leaders that up to 80 percent of the 32,000 refugees who lived in settlements near Uganda's Zoka forest south of Adjumani town have fled for the safety of refugee settlements 30 kilometres to the north. The reports of the estimated 500 spontaneous returns back to Sudan come from border officials monitoring the Kajo Keji border crossing.
Due to this sudden and massive displacement, UNHCR, the Ugandan government and partner agencies have mounted a registration campaign this week in eight areas north of Adjumani town and in four zones in neighbouring Moyo District where the displaced Sudanese are now camped. These are existing refugee settlements where many have relatives. We expect that this registration effort will finish this weekend, and we'll then better know the full scale of the problem. That will enable distribution of shelter items, clothing and assistance from the UN World Food Programme. We do believe that many refugees took their food rations with them when they fled their settlements and have opted to settle with relatives, easing some of their most immediate needs.
As the refugees left most of their household items when they fled during recent weeks, some are riding bicycles back to their original settlements during the daytime to retrieve their belongings or tend crops.
We understand that the Ugandan army has fielded four battalions to restore order to the Adjumani region. We hope that the additional security measures will enable the displaced refugees to go back to their settlements. As they raise much of their own food and this is planting season, it is urgent for them to look after their small farms in order to avoid further hardship.
Refugee settlements were not the only targets in the spate of recent LRA attacks. Ugandan villages were also raided. Over the years, some 1.5 million Ugandans living in the region have been similarly displaced from their home villages by the much feared LRA fighters.
In just the last three months, UNHCR has recorded 25 rebel attacks in Adjumani and Moyo districts. Of the 12 LRA raids reported so far this month, nine were on refugee settlements, including one on a site only 5 km from UNHCR's office. Of the 13 attacks that occurred in March and February, eight were against the refugee encampments.
The UN refugee agency cares for 173,000 Sudanese in the north of Uganda. Many live in settlements west of the Nile River, while some 32,000 refugees resided in the area around the Zoka forest where they are exposed to LRA raids.