UNHCR concerned about continued instability in eastern DRC

Briefing Notes, 23 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 23 July 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

After nearly two weeks of fighting in the North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we remain concerned about the situation of civilians in the area of conflict. On Sunday evening, July 21, bomb explosions and gunfire on the DRC side could be heard from border points in western Uganda's Bundibugyo district. Relatively few refugees have crossed over.

Access to the area is not possible for humanitarian agencies, and conditions of those who do not make it across to Uganda are unclear. It takes refugees from the Kamango area around 12 hours to walk to the Ugandan border.

By Monday evening, after two or three days of skirmishes, there was a momentary calm, as all forces seemed to be regrouping.

Tens of thousands of refugees first began pouring into western Uganda after fighting erupted between Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group, and the DRC army in Kamango on July 11.

The Bubukwanga transit centre, some 25 kilometres inland from the border, is now home to 15,714 refugees, 60 per cent of whom are under the age of 18. Our site planner has now assessed that this is its maximum capacity, even though the previous estimates had indicated that it could house 25,000.

The Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister has pledged to begin electronic registration using biometrics by the end of this week so they can quickly begin moving refugees if they wish to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement for longer term protection and assistance. There they will be given plots of land to farm, as well as basic household items.

Many refugees brought their animals with them from DRC and are sleeping in their tents with their ducks and goats, increasing the risk of disease in the transit centre. The emergency response will be shifting its focus on decongesting the transit centre as of this week.

Our UNHCR staff at Bubukwanga have been checking for cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) among vulnerable people arriving in the camp. So far, they have found nothing but UNHCR and its partners are considering sending experts on SGBV and child protection to the camp. As of Monday evening, there were 93 unaccompanied children at the transit centre and another 25 have been reunified with family. This brings the cumulative total to 118 unaccompanied children assisted – 89 boys and 29 girls. Another 33 separated children were registered, while a total of 41 children had been reunited with their parents since the operation started in the transit centre.

Meanwhile, our staff in the North Kivu capital, Goma, say fighting between the DRC government forces and the M23 rebel group is continuing. There were clashes on Monday, but the situation was calm on Tuesday morning. A UNHCR staff member, however, said there was no sign that the fighting some 10 kilometres north of Goma, had ended.

When the fighting started last week, some 660 civilians fled to neighbouring Rwanda and about 4,200 people sought shelter at schools and churches in Goma. There has been no sign of further mass displacement.

For more 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
  • Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
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