UNHCR rushes aid as 66,000 Congolese refugees stream into western Uganda

News Stories, 15 July 2013

© UNHCR/L.Beck
North Kivu has long been a volatile province and thousands of civilians have sought shelter in Uganda to escape conflict, like these Congolese queuing for aid earlier this year.

BUNDIBUGYO, Uganda, July 15 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency is providing emergency shelter, blankets and other essential relief items to some 66,000 Congolese refugees who have fled fighting for the safety of western Uganda in the last five days.

Refugees began fleeing after a reported attack last week on the town of Kamango in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan rebel group said to be operating around the Ruwenzori Mountains of DRC's North Kivu province.

By the early morning hours of last Thursday, the refugees had reached Bubandi sub-county in western Uganda's Bundibugyo district, with 13,000 arriving on the first day alone. By mid-afternoon Sunday, the Uganda Red Cross Society said it had registered 66,139 people. Whole families have been carrying mattresses, pots and pans, and children were even carrying chickens.

"This is an extraordinarily swift and concerning influx of refugees into an area with very limited preparedness to extend humanitarian assistance to such a large number of people," said Mohammed Adar, UNHCR's representative in Uganda. "We are, however, moving to mount the initial response as quickly as possible while preparing at the same time for an enhanced operation."

With no indication the refugees will go home soon, UNHCR joined the Office of the Prime Minister and other agencies in providing emergency aid. UNHCR sent plastic sheeting for shelter construction, plates and cups, and temporary latrine kits as well as soap. The agency has also provided fuel for transfers to a new transit centre, 23 kilometres from the DRC border, and the first 300 refugees were moved on Sunday.

Today, UNHCR plans an emergency shipment of tents, blankets and sleeping mats.

Bundibugyo is a mountainous and densely populated area about a seven-hour drive from the Ugandan capital Kampala. The new arrivals are being received in five primary schools, and other sites. Some are staying with families in the community.

The World Food Programme has delivered enough food to feed 20,000 people for five days, with more food due to arrive on Monday. The Ugandan Red Cross has organized communities to cook and serve hot meals, while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other partners are providing water.

Even before the arrival of the newest refugees, Uganda was already home to more than 210,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, 63 per cent of whom came from the DRC.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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On August 5, 2002, some 24,000 Sudanese refugees fled their homes in Achol-Pii camp in northern Uganda after a bloody attack by the Lord's Liberation Army rebel group. More than 60 refugees and many local villagers were killed in the attack.

Fearing further violence, displaced refugees trekked overnight to Lira, from where UNHCR trucked them to Kiryondongo, 100 km to the south-west. Kiryondongo site, a settlement already hosting 13,000 refugees, was temporarily extended to accommodate the Achol-Pii survivors until another site could be prepared.

Arriving families were initially accommodated at an expanded reception centre at Kiryondongo. After being registered, the new arrivals received UNHCR plastic sheeting, an emergency food ration and a 20 x 15-metre plot per family to build their own temporary shelter. UNHCR also distributed blankets and jerry cans. Additional latrines were also dug, new water pumps installed and a new emergency clinic was set up.

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