Congolese refugees at risk of diseases, UNHCR official says

Thousands of refugees who have been fleeing fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo since Tuesday to a UN refugee settlement in western Uganda’s Kyenjojo District are at risk of diseases, an official of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told IRIN.

"There is a potential for water and sanitation problems and a likely outbreak of disease," Stephen Gonah, a UNHCR senior protection officer, who visited the area, said in Kampala, the Ugandan capital.

The agency, he said, would begin relocating the refugees on Saturday to a nearby settlement in Uganda called Kyaka II, Currently, he said, there may be over 5,000 people "cramped up in a very small area" at a landing site of Nkondo on Lake Albert.

Ugandan army spokesman Maj Shaban Bantariza confirmed that thousands of refugees had been crossing into Uganda. "There might be between six and seven thousand of them. They come through the areas of Kanungu and others came through areas near Lake Albert," he said

Most of the refugees are women and children, he said. At least two were admitted to a hospital in the area with gun shot wounds. Bantariza could not confirm which armed groups in the DRC were fighting each other. Gonah also said he was unsure of the reason people were fleeing as UNHCR has not yet interviewed the refugees.

"Currently, the most important thing is to offer them life saving facilities," Gonah said.