Aid efforts to help new Congolese refugees in Uganda focus on shelter, water shortages

Briefing Notes, 19 July 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 19 July 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A week after Congolese refugees began fleeing into western Uganda, our efforts are focused on trying to reach the thousands of people still spread across the hills along the border, and simultaneously to manage the situation at an increasingly crowded transit facility some 25 kilometres deeper into Uganda.

As of yesterday evening (July 18), 15,500 refugees had been transferred away from the unsafe border to the Bubukwanga transit centre, where there are protection and other services. The transit centre is managed by the Ugandan Red Cross and has maximum capacity of 25,000 people even with a new 4.5 acre- land allocation by the Ugandan government. The Uganda Red Cross Society estimates that there are 66,000 Congolese refugees from the new fighting.

UNHCR and government partners are running 15 trucks non-stop all day transferring refugees and their possessions to the facility. We have moved refugees entirely from four of five primary school sites where they had initially been staying. The main site where some 5,000 refugees remain is Butogo primary school.

At Bubukwanga, after the Ugandan Red Cross erected 229 tents for individual families, we have switched to putting up communal shelters to provide shelter for more people more quickly. So far, 13 large communal shelters have been erected. Some refugees are setting up their own makeshift homes out of blankets they were given at the site. We are seeing people using mosquito nets they brought with them as "roofing".

The refugees began fleeing a week ago, on 11 July, after an attack on Kamango in Eastern DRC. From the accounts we have heard, many fled for their lives bringing nothing with them, and then spending several nights in the bush, where there were cases of women giving birth. People walked about 15 kilometers to reach Butogo primary school, just across the border, where they had little food and were waiting for transfer to the transit centre.

At the transit centre, two communal kitchens have been set up, supplying three hot meals a day with food provided by WFP. A third kitchen is under construction. Nearly 80 individual pit latrines have been dug. So far there have been no outbreaks of disease.

Through contributions of partners including UNICEF, Médecins Sans Frontières (France), Oxfam and the Lutheran World Foundation enough water tanks are arriving in the transit centre. However, we remain concerned about water supplies as the number of refugees in the centre grows. We are using three trucks but are only able to bring in a bare minimum amount of water. We need partners to contribute a fourth water truck while UNICEF is repairing the district water system.

Children between the ages of nine months and 15 years most of whom have never been to a doctor in their lives are now being vaccinated against measles and receiving Vitamin A supplements and deworming tablets. Medical teams are also going tent-to-tent to identify sick refugee children and find anyone whose nutrition might have suffered from going a week or more without a proper meal during their flight or stay on the border.

Médecins Sans Frontières is going along the border providing medical care and providing a nutritional supplement to refugee children among those still waiting to be transferred. The Ugandan Ministry of Health is also beefing up numbers of medical staff and medical supplies in the area to help refugees.

The transit centre is intended to be the refugees' home for no more than three weeks. It is considered safe, but UNHCR and Uganda's Office of the Prime Minister are identifying other possibilities for relocation to places where they could get protection, plots of land to farm for themselves, as well as shelter materials and food rations. They would be able to live, to a large extent, just like Ugandan villagers, accessing the health, water and education services also available in the settlements.

The arrival of thousands of refugees disrupted classes for a week at many schools in Bundibugyo District where the refugees were housed. We are working with the Office of the Prime Minister to make sure classes can resume next week. UNICEF and Oxfam plan to clean blocked latrines at the schools and other partners are repairing desks so pupils can get back to learning.

Although planning for a possible lengthy stay of refugees is happening, at the Lamiya Bridge in Busunga, our staff saw hundreds of refugees returning to Eastern DRC yesterday, carrying mattresses, ducks and jerry cans, and tugging goats on ropes. Many other refugees are living with friends and relatives on the Ugandan side, and it is not clear how many remain along the border.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Uganda on mission: Kitty McKinsey (Regional) on mobile +254 735 337 608
  • In Mbarara: Lucy Beck on mobile +256 77 271 013
  • In Kampala: Karen Ringuette on mobile +256 772 701115
  • In Geneva: Leo Dobbs on mobile: +41 79 883 6347
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120



A Time Between: Moving on from Internal Displacement in Uganda

This document examines the situation of IDPs in Acholiland in northern Uganda, through the stories of individuals who have lived through conflict and displacement.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Jean de Dieu, from the Central African Republic (CAR), was on his way to market in mid-January when he was shot. The 24-year-old shepherd and his family had fled their country two months earlier and sought refuge on an island in the Oubangui River belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes Jean crossed back to check on his livestock, but last week his luck ran out when he went to take an animal to market. A few hours later, in an improvised operating room in Dula, a Congolese border town on the banks of the Oubangui, medics fight to save his life.

Jean's situation is not unique. Over the past two years, war in the Central African Republic has driven more than 850,000 people from their homes. Many have been attacked as they fled, or killed if they tried to return. In neighbouring DRC, medical resources are being stretched to their limits.

Photographer Brian Sokol, on assignment for UNHCR, captured the moment when Jean and others were rushed into the operating theatre. His images bear witness to desperation, grief, family unity and, ultimately, a struggle for survival.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province have long referred to the region between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto as the "triangle of death." Despite the presence of UN peace-keepers and government military successes in other parts of the country, the situation in the resources-rich Katanga has been getting worse over the past two years. Conflict between a secessionist militia group and the government and between the Luba (Bantu) and Twa (Pygmy) ethnic groups has left thousands dead and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 people since 2012, including over 70,000 in the last three months. UNHCR has expressed its "deep concern" about the "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in northern Katanga. The violence includes widescale looting and burning of entire villages and human rights' violations such as murder, mass rape and other sexual violence, and the forced military recruitment of children.

The limited presence of humanitarian and development organizations is a serious problem, leading to insufficient assistance to displaced people who struggle to have access to basic services. There are 28 sites hosting the displaced in northern Katanga and many more displaced people live in host communities. While UNHCR has built some 1,500 emergency shelters since January, more is needed, including access to health care, potable water, food and education. The following striking photographs by Brian Sokol for UNHCR show some of the despair and suffering.

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

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