More than 3,000 Congolese flee to Uganda to escape clashes


(UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency said Thursday that fighting between rebel fighters and a militia group in eastern Congo has forced a reported 3,000 people to flee across the border into southern Uganda’s Kanungu district over the past 10 days.

UNHCR, with the support of local authorities, on Wednesday transported around 900 of the new arrivals from the Ishasha and Kihihi border crossing to a newly reopened transit centre at Matanda. The Ugandan Red Cross has registered about 460 there so far.

The refugees at Matanda, mostly women and children, have asked to be moved to a UNHCR-run refugee settlement at Rwamwanja, which opened in April and provides shelter to more than 20,000 Congolese. The refugee agency has set up 30 tents and excavated latrines. Water tanks were due to be brought in today with construction of communal shelters and pitching of more tents also planned.

Non-food aid items are being sent to the transit centre while steps are also under way to reinforce local health services. The World Food Programme is preparing to pre-position food and has set up a temporary warehouse. “Things are moving, but it’s not fully active yet,” said Sakura Atsumi, UNHCR’s deputy representative in Uganda.

The new arrivals fled fighting since September 18 between mainly ethnic Hutu FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) fighters and Mai Mai militiamen, unlike more than 40,000 other Congolese civilians who have left towns and villages in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu province and headed to Uganda’s Kisoro district, just south of Kanungu, since April.

The earlier waves of displacement were triggered by stop-start fighting between Congolese government troops and the M23 rebel movement, which has also left some 220,000 people internally displaced in North Kivu and forced some 20,000 to flee to Rwanda.

UNHCR staff said the earlier heavy fighting from April-July, currently in a lull, had caused a power vacuum in areas of eastern DRC and that’s why this latest fighting had erupted as rival groups compete for power. A constant stream of people have been fleeing from violence and human rights violations.

The local authorities and police told UNHCR that an estimated 3,000 refugees had crossed to Kanungu through various border points. Local officials said new arrivals were camped at the Ishasha and Butogota border crossings as well as Kihihi, many awaiting transportation. Others were waiting at smaller crossings.

UNHCR urgently needs extra funds for its operations to assist displaced Congolese in eastern Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Earlier this month, the refugee agency made a supplementary appeal for almost US$40m million, including some US$20 million for the Uganda operations.



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