Thousands of refugees fleeing violence in DR Congo enter Uganda – UN

Villagers carry their belongings as they head towards the border with Uganda during an earlier exodus from North Kivu province. Photo: UNHCR/J. Akena

9 March 2012 – More than 3,000 civilians fleeing violence in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have entered Uganda since the beginning of this year, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

Those arriving in Uganda are mostly farmers and have spoken of abductions, looting, harassment and rape, Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told reporters in Geneva.

People are crossing into Kisoro district in south-western Uganda and most of them have come form North Kivu’s Rutshuru area. Others have come from Masisi and Walikale territories in North Kivu – between 200 and 350 kilometres from the Ugandan border.

Some of the refugees told UNHCR staff that whole villages had fled night attacks by armed men, Mr. Edwards said.

In Kisoro, UNHCR staff heard the account of a man who said he was sexually assaulted by several armed men after being forced to witness the gang rape of his wife. His daughter, who resisted rape, was killed by the gang.

UNHCR has opened a transit centre in an area of Kisoro district known as Nyakabande, with the capacity to accommodate 1,000 people. There are tents, water and sanitation facilities, cooked meals and basic medical care, according to Mr. Edwards.

The agency is also supporting local health centres by providing essential drugs, water facilities and furniture.

“We regularly transport refugees from the transit centre to Nakivale and Oruchinga settlements, which already host Congolese refugees, some of whom have been in Uganda since the civil war of the1990s, as well as people of several other nationalities,” said Mr. Edwards.

UNHCR is concerned that further deterioration of security in North Kivu could halt the tripartite process initiated by DRC, Uganda and UNHCR in 2010 to pave the way for the voluntary return of Congolese refugees in Uganda.

At the time of the signing of the agreement in October 2010, some 32,000 of the 81,000 Congolese refugees in Uganda had expressed a wish to return home. More than 7,000 refugees returned spontaneously to DRC in 2010 and last year. The fresh violence is, however, forcing many of them back into Uganda.

The violence, involving DRC Government troops, the Rwandan rebel group known as FDLR and local militias in DRC’s eastern region has forced over 100,000 civilians out of their homes since late November, according to UNHCR.

Most are in North Kivu, where some 600,000 people are internally displaced, over one-third of the 1.7 million internally displace persons in the country.

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