Uganda is “overwhelmed” by the current influx of Congolese refugees fleeing renewed fighting in North Kivu Province in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and is calling for an emergency meeting of countries in the Great Lakes Region to work out a road map for lasting peace, say officials.
“We have a problem of feeding these big numbers. The influx has come at the time when our donors are experiencing financial shocks, which has a direct impact to government and UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency] to look [after] and cater for the refugees,” Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s state minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, told IRIN.
“We also have a burden of treatment. Some of the refugees and Congolese army troops who defected to us have bullet wounds inflicted on them as a result of the fighting. Our hospitals in Kisoro District are overwhelmed and overstretched. They are struggling,” he said.
Uganda has called for an emergency crisis meeting of the 11-member International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) scheduled for 11 July in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. “As the current chair of ICGLR, we are duty-bound to call for this emergency meeting in a bid to diffuse the situation in DRC,” Henry Okello Oryem, Uganda’s acting foreign affairs minister, told IRIN.
Mohammed Adar, a UNHCR representative in Uganda, told IRIN that Nyakabande transit camp in Kisoro District, which was meant to host fewer than 3,000 refugees, is currently hosting over 16,000.
“It’s indeed a big challenge. There is a strain on social services. The more people we have to accommodate for long, the more problems we have, especially hygiene and sanitation issues,” Adar told IRIN.
“The transit centre was not meant for a long stay. It was supposed to be for three to four days. However, many of the Congolese refugees don’t want to be transferred to the settlement camps for better services. They prefer to stay at the transit camp to monitor the situation back home,” he said.
Catherine Ntabadde, assistant director of communications with the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS), told IRIN there was a need for food and water at the border. Hygiene and sanitation were critical in Nyakabande and Bunagana (in eastern DRC).
According to URCS and UNHCR, at least 16,270 refugees, mainly from the Bunagana area, have been registered at Nyakabande since last week, when M23 rebels led by International Criminal Court indictee Bosco Ntaganda overran a government battalion at Jambo and Bunagana in DRC’s Rutshuru Province.
Fleeing soldiers disarmed
Over 600 Congolese soldiers have fled to Kisoro District. On 7 July the Ugandan army disarmed them and moved them to the western district of Kasese where there are better medical services, food and shelter. “We are expecting our government and that of DRC to finish with arrangements and these soldiers will be repatriated back,” Capt Peter Mugisha, army spokesperson for western Uganda, told IRIN.
Meanwhile, the Ugandan authorities are concerned about reports of cholera in DRC. “With the big number crossing, we are worried they might cross with the disease,” Adar, told IRIN.
“The current needs are food and water at the border; improved hygiene and sanitation at Nyakabande and Bunagana; shelter; reproductive health care; first aid and psychosocial support,” URCS said in a 9 July statement.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions