Renewed fighting over the last week in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu province has caused more than 5,000 people to flee across the border into south-west Uganda and left an unknown number internally displaced.
As of Monday, Uganda Red Cross staff in the crowded Nyakabande Transit Centre in Uganda’s Kisoro District had registered 5,075 new Congolese arrivals from North Kivu’s neighbouring Rutshuru territory since the latest fighting between government troops and the rebel March 23 movement exploded last Thursday. The defectors on Friday captured the border town of Bunagana on Friday followed by the important town of Rutshuru, causing thousands to flee.
Most of the arrivals in Uganda have crossed at Bunagana, but some are using other crossing points such as Nteko and Ishasha. The surge in new arrivals has put a strain on shelter facilities at the Nyakabande Transit Centre, which currently houses more than 11,500 people and where UNHCR has a presence.
The pressure has been eased by completion of a communal shelter for 350 people and the erection of dozens of tents. Provision of water is also a problem at the centre due to a fault with some pumps. Water has had to be trucked in.
In a separate development, a bus carrying Congolese refugees from Nyakabande to the Rwamwanja refugee settlement some 350kms to the north overturned on Tuesday, killing one child and injuring 11 people, according to preliminary reports. The bus was part of a 20-vehicle convoy organized by UNHCR and carrying more than 1,600 people who had asked to be moved to the new home deeper inside Uganda.
Meanwhile, across the border in North Kivu, UNHCR staff say the latest combat has left thousands of people internally displaced but full figures are not available because neither UNHCR nor its partners can now operate in much of the province. But the latest UN figures say more than 100,000 people from North Kivu have been displaced since April.
The situation in Goma was tense on Monday but no large-scale influx from Rutshuru territory has been noted so far, nor has the number of people crossing to Rwanda increased significantly in recent days.
All staff in UNHCR’s Masisi, Kitchanga and Rutshuru field offices in North Kivu – almost 50 people – had been relocated to Goma before the latest fighting, the most serious since the split in army ranks in April. There are 31 sites for displaced Congolese in North Kivu, but UNHCR can now only visit people staying in sites near Goma, including Mugunga III, which shelters about 10,500 people.
Staff in Goma said they had heard that many people fleeing the fighting in Rutshuru had moved to areas around the UN peace-keeping base in Kiwanja. Unconfirmed reports of abuse have been received from the area.
Meanwhile, the escalation in fighting this year has helped to boost the number of Rwandan refugees in North Kivu who are applying to UNHCR for voluntary repatriation.
Since January, more than 6,000 people have been repatriated to Rwanda this year, including more than 4,700 from North Kivu and 1,785 from South Kivu. UNHCR had estimated that it would repatriate about 5,000 for the whole year from North Kivu. And the number of people registering for repatriation has rocketed over the past two weeks from about 120 per week to 450 per week.
The refugees, many of them from the Walikale territory north-west of Goma, cite general insecurity and violence in the region and the renewed fighting. According to the latest UNHCR figures, 18,283 Congolese refugees have arrived in Rwanda and been received at the Nkamira Transit Centre since late April. More than 7,600 have since been transferred to a new camp at Kigeme.