Uganda is struggling to contain the number of refugees coming into the country since the beginning of the month following resurgence of violence in pockets of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the UN Refugee Agency- UNHCR, has said.
In a press release on Tuesday the organisation said that the country did not have resources to cater for around 7,500 Congolese refugees that had arrived in Uganda since the start of June, “placing strain on already badly overstretched facilities.” Nearly two thirds are children, below 18 years in age, the agency added.
Uganda urgently needs resources to plug funding gaps left by a balance in their financial assistance for relief to refugees.
“As we near the end of June, UNHCR and partners working on the refugee response in Uganda have received US$150 million, 17 per cent of the total US$927 million needed,” said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic in Geneva.
The inter-ethnic clashes in the northeastern areas of DR Congo are driving people across the border into Uganda at a rate of 311 a day, more than double the rate of refugee arrivals in May (145 per day).
Tens of thousands of people have died in inter-ethnic clashes between 1999 and 2003.
"Armed groups are said to be attacking villages, torching and looting houses, and killing men, women and children. Most people are fleeing to Uganda via Lake Albert from Ituri province, where displacement since early June is now estimated at 300,000," he said in the press release sent to newsrooms.
Mr Mahecic said the latest populations of asylum seekers were overrunning available spaces offered by Uganda.
“Uganda’s transit and reception facilities are overwhelmed. People newly arrived are first taken to a transit centre in Sebagoro, a small fishing village on the lakeshore, where they undergo health screening. Refugees are then transported to the Kagoma reception centre a few kilometres away. The centre is currently home to some 4,600 new arrivals, 1,600 more than its maximum intended capacity,” Mahecic added.
UNHCR has said shelter and basic relief items are the urgent priority. In addition, buses and trucks are needed to transport refugees from border point reception centres to settlement areas. Many refugees need immediate psycho-social care and counselling for trauma.
“While screening facilities are in place at the collection points, transit centres and reception centres, health facilities are basic and need upgrading. Clinics are in need of more doctors and medicines,” said the official. “Already overcrowded and understaffed schools need significant support to meet the educational needs of the new arrivals.”
He added that even though hundreds had been provided plots of land close to the Kyangwali refugee settlement, the pace of new arrivals was outpacing the available facility with needs outstripping what humanitarians are able to deliver.
Refugees are arriving with significant belongings, due to fear that they would not be able to return home for some time, and others with little more than the clothes on their backs had recounted close encounters with extreme brutality.
“The refugees are telling us that more people are likely to arrive in Uganda soon. However, some are reportedly being prevented from leaving DRC by armed groups, while others struggle to afford the fee for the boat journey – a sum equivalent to less than $6,” he said.