A flare-up of fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) North Kivu province, where Government forces have been clashing with those loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda and other groups, is sending thousands of people across the border into neighbouring Uganda, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
“An estimated 8,000 Congolese refugees who fled to Bunagana in Uganda over the weekend were still there this morning,” Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva. “This is the third such influx into Uganda since August amid the spiralling conflict in North Kivu.”
Ugandan authorities and UNHCR appealed yesterday to the refugees to move further inland to Uganda''s Nyakabanda transit centre, which the agency set up some 15 kilometers away from the border town of Bunagana, where two suspected cases of cholera have been among the refugees there.
The health risk heightens the need to “decongest the small town and move people to the transit centre, which is equipped with proper sanitation facilities,” Mr. Redmond said.
As of early this morning, some 1,300 new refugees had been registered in the Nyakabanda centre, where UNHCR and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) France have completed the construction of shelters to accommodate 1,500 persons.
MSF has also started the immunization of children under five years old, while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has set up two 10,000 litre water tanks.
“We are making preparations to provide assistance to up to 5,000 people,” said Mr. Redmond. “We and MSF plan to transport another 150 families from the border to Nyakabanda tomorrow.”
Many of the refugees, he said, are reluctant to go to the transit centre because they hope to cross back into DRC as soon as they feel it is safe.
Some of the refugees in Bunagana say they have been displaced five times in the last two years, according to UNHCR.
Inside North Kivu, internally displaced persons (IDPs) reported that “they had witnessed the fighting which forced most of inhabitants of Rugari village either eastwards towards the Ugandan border or southwards towards Goma.”
UNHCR estimates that there are some 45,000 IDPs in the six IDP camps close to Goma.
“We remain concerned because of the limited access to many parts of North Kivu due to the tense security situation. We fear that humanitarian assistance has not yet reached many displaced persons in the troubled province,” said Mr. Redmond.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC) today said that since the resumption of military hostilities in North Kivu between the DRC armed forces (FARDC) and ex-General Nkunda’s rebels, “there have been a rising number of rapes” against women by armed men in North Kivu province.
“MONUC remains highly worried by this situation, and stresses that rape is a completely inadmissible criminal act that no climate of insecurity or impunity can justify,” the spokesperson said.
Calling on the Congolese authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice, MONUC reaffirmed its readiness to support Government efforts “to stop these criminals, who continue to act with impunity.”
Since December 2006, the number of newly displaced in North Kivu has reached 370,000, according to UNHCR.