Uganda’s state minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees has told IRIN that tens of thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the western district of Bundibugyo must relocate to a refugee camp designated for them 245km away in Hoima District.
“They have no choice but to be relocated,” State Minister Musa Ecweru told IRIN. “When they [refugees] come here, they have no choice where to settle. It’s us [the government of Uganda] to decide where to take them for maximum protection and security.”
Most of the refugees are refusing to move, despite facing serious safety and hygiene issues at an overcrowded transit site near the border; they want to stay put to better monitor and asses the unrest in their home areas.
The mainly refugee subsistence farmers hope the low-level fighting and instability that forced them out of the Kamango area in the northernmost part of North Kivu Province, will soon stop, allowing them to return to their farms.
Ecweru told IRIN that of the 66,000 refugees who have crossed into Uganda since 12 July following fighting between Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the DRC army (FARDC), so far 18,000 have registered for transfer to the designated camp.
“The refugees have to follow the protection regime and accept to be relocated. They are not above the laws governing refugee protection,” David Kazungu, Uganda’s commissioner for refugees, told IRIN.
“They can’t continue to want to live in the transit centre. If they don’t want to move to the designate settlement camp, let them pack and seek asylum elsewhere.”
Move to ease pressure
The transit centre, meant as a temporary safe haven for the refugees, has become dangerously full.
“Currently accommodating just under 20,000 refugees, [it] is already over capacity and these relocations will help ease pressure as well as make space for those who continue to arrive from the ongoing instability within the DRC,” said Lucy Beck, associate external relations officer in the UNHCR Mbarara sub-office.
“In order to ease pressure on the transit centre, UNHCR and OPM [Office of the Prime Minister] are working around the clock to register refugees in order to be able to relocate those willing to move to Kyangwali,” she said.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Ugandan government yesterday launched the relocation exercise, with the transfer of the first 800 refugees from Bubukwanga transit centre, Bundibugyo District, to Kyangwali refugee settlement, Hoima District, one of Uganda’s eight refugee settlements.
At the settlement, the refugees will receive more comprehensive assistance and support, including plots of land to cultivate, building materials and household items in order create a home for themselves.
The arrival of the refugees has left the Ugandan government and humanitarian agencies struggling to meet the refugees' needs amid funding challenges.
“We have logistical challenges. It’s more expensive and difficult to keep the refugees at the transit camp. More resources are needed,” said Ecweru.
At Kyangwali settlement camp, currently home to some 22,000 refugees, efforts are being made to renovate, and increase services. This includes constructing a reception centre and improving the road network, as well as water, sanitation, health and education facilities, in newly established villages for the new arrivals.
“We intentionally kept the numbers of the first convoy low in order not to overstretch reception facilities at Kyangawali. The number of people transported in subsequent movements is expected to rise in tandem with improvement in infrastructure at the relocation site. I am confident all refugees at the transit centre will agree to voluntarily relocate,” UNHCR country representative Mohammed Adar told IRIN.
UNHCR and OPM are now dealing with three simultaneous refugee emergencies in the southwestern district of Kisoro: people fleeing from the Kamango area; people fleeing fighting between FARDC and M23 rebels in DRC; and those fleeing ongoing instability in Jonglei State, South Sudan.
An emergency appeal by UN agencies in Uganda designed to help those displaced from eastern DRC is under-funded, with only 45 percent of the US$54.3 million having been met so far.
“UNHCR and its partners on the ground are now desperately seeking funding for this emergency in order to be able to assist those at the transit centre and those moving to the refugee settlement,” said UNHCR’s Beck.
“With this new influx and the additional support needed to both the Bubukwanga transit centre and Kyangwali refugee settlement, UNHCR is revising its requirements to $43.6 million, up from the $22.2 million initially required.”