The United Nations refugee agency has moved to improve the plight of about 1,500 Central African refugees scattered along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a spokesperson said today.
The refugees, who had been scattered following attacks between March and May by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a notorious Ugandan rebel group, are being moved to a newly constructed refugee camp where they will be at less risk.
In addition to protection and shelter, the new camp provides safe drinking water and allows better humanitarian access, said Adrian Edwards of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It is located some 70 kilometres inside the DRC.
Following the attacks, the refugees had found shelter in several, isolated border villages in Bas-Uélé district in northern DRC, Mr. Edwards said. Yet their situation remained precarious, as the LRA has displaced some 280,000 people in DRC’s Haut and Bas-Uélé districts since December 2008.
Owing to difficult access conditions where the refugees had settled, many have been compelled to move to the new camp by foot – although the most vulnerable are being transported on motorbikes.
Together with the Congolese authorities, UNHCR has set up way stations and a transit centre along the route, where refugees get cooked meals. On arrival at the camp, all refugees are registered and receive food and other aid.
The new site is located at Kpala-Kpala, where the rocky terrain had posed challenges in establishing the camp. However, in June and July, UNHCR and its partners were able to construct emergency shelters and latrines, as well as several water points. The operation is being run in close cooperation with UNHCR's partners and other UN aid agencies.
Unfortunately, owing to logistical challenges in gaining access to refugees along the border, it is feared that some may be beyond the agency’s reach.
The LRA has been active in parts of the Central African Republic (CAR) since 1993 and in Uganda since 1986. It has left a trail of killings and mayhem, and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes in the DRC and other neighbouring countries. Since December 2008, it has forced nearly 20,000 Congolese to seek refuge in Sudan and the CAR.