An influx of refugees fleeing a mix of increased post-election related violence and continued militia activity in parts of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is stretching the capacity of refugee camps in western Uganda to host them, say officials.
“We are kind of overwhelmed; there are many Congolese pouring and crossing into Uganda daily,” Stephen Malinga, Uganda’s Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, told IRIN. “So far, we have received about 3,700 new arrivals into the country through three western Uganda border points; we expect many more to come.
“The reasons they are giving us for fleeing is persecution following the last [DRC] elections; they are asked which candidate they voted [for] in the last elections. Some of them are running to escape violence from the local militias and fighters operating in eastern DRC,” said Malinga.
Deadly protests erupted in parts of the DRC in the run-up to and during the 28 November 2011 DRC polls, with scores of people being killed, reportedly by gunmen affiliated to the two main political rivals, President Joseph Kabila and veteran opposition politician Etienne Tshisekedi. On 9 December 2011, the country’s Electoral Commission declared Kabila the winner, having garnered 49 percent of the votes cast against Tshisekedi’s 32 percent, triggering violent protests and a claim to power by Tshisekedi.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at least 2,000 DRC refugees, mainly from the area around Rutshuru in DRC’s eastern North Kivu Province, have crossed into western Uganda since January.
“We have about 40 to 100 Congolese coming per day. They are mainly fleeing their country due to the fighting between different parties in eastern DRC,” said Kai Erik Nielsen, the UNHCR representative in Uganda. “It’s not a massive and huge influx. However, we can’t be able to predict what is going to happen. We shall gear [up] for additional and emergency funding if things change. We don’t know whether the fighting will stop.”
The refugees are being received at the Uganda-DRC border and brought to a transit centre at Nyakabanda in Kisoro district, about 15km from the DRC border, before being transferred either to the Nakivale or Oruchinga refugee camps in southwest Uganda.
But officials say the two camps cannot cater for additional refugees. “Oruchinga and Nakivale are now full; the facilities in [the] two camps are overstretched. We are now planning to open another [refugee] camp in Rwamwaja [in the southwestern district of Kamwege],” said Malinga. “We have to help them [refugees]. We are trying as much as possible to give them food, shelter, water, sanitation facilities and health.”
Nakivale is hosting some 58,256 refugees, 30,071 of whom are Congolese, while Oruchinga has 5,493, with 2,731 of Congolese origin, according to 1 February UNHCR data.
Recently, there have been some challenges to refugee settlement in Nakivale. “There are some Ugandan nationals encroaching on the land gazetted by the government for refugees,” said UNHCR’s Nielsen. The Ugandan government is looking into the matter.