Fighting late last week between Congolese government forces and renegade troops has forced a new influx of displaced people into south-west Uganda. A further 13,000-15,000 people crossed the border from Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu province in the latest influx, according to Ugandan district officials.
UNHCR staff, accompanied by government officials handling refugee issues, visited the border town of Bunagana on Friday and found some 6,000-7,000 Congolese camping in the area, using local shelter and open space. They were from nearby villages in North Kivu’s Rutshuru territory. Many had already been displaced by earlier clashes in May.
The refugee agency started the same day to transport people from the border to a transit centre at Nyakabande. “We took about 1,000 people on Friday and Saturday, while others made their own way. As of Sunday night, there were 6,163 at Nyakabande, where capacity is increasingly stretched. We are providing basic aid,” UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said on Tuesday.
To ease the congestion at Nyakabande, which lies 20 kilometres from the border at Bunagana, UNHCR is stepping up transportation of those who are willing to go to the Rwamwanja settlement, about 370 kilometres, or an eight hour’s drive, to the north.
“On Monday morning, we moved 1,471 people by convoy to Rwamwanja and we plan more convoys on Thursday and Sunday, with each one taking 1,000-1,500 people,” said Mahecic in Geneva. “But many people wish to stay near the border in the hope that the on-off fighting will end and they can return home,” he added.
The recent fighting has also caused displacement inside North Kivu province, with at least 12,000 people registered as internally displaced in Jomba and Bwesa in Rutshuru territory between May 10 and May 15. Most of the displaced are staying with host families or living in school buildings.
In Rwanda, smaller numbers of Congolese continue to cross from North Kivu and make their way to the overstretched Nkamira transit camp, which currently hosts 9,006 people. A total of 107 people went back to Congo over the weekend, Mahecic said, adding: “We’re keeping an eye on this trend.”
Since April 27, when the current wave of clashes between Congolese armed forces and supporters of former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda broke out, tens of thousands of people have been displaced within North Kivu or to Uganda and Rwanda. Ntaganda joined the armed forces under a 2009 peace deal for the east, but he is sought for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. UNHCR fears further mass displacement unless the rival sides are able to agree on peace.
Amid all this, UNHCR suffered the loss of a colleague, Rocky Makabuza who was shot by assailants at his home in Goma late on Friday and died later. The motives for his killing have not been established.
By Leo Dobbs (UNHCR)