Humanitarian Agencies Struggle To Help Congolese Refugees

Humanitarian agencies are grappling with how to give assistance to over 66,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC that have entered the country.

Congolese refugees in Bundibugyo
Congolese refugees in Bundibugyo

Congolese refugees began streaming into Bubandi Sub-County in Bundibugyo District on July 11, after the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels attacked the town of Kamango in North Kivu Province.

In a phone interview, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees—UNHCR Country representative, Mohammed Adar, described the relief intervention as extraordinary because of the large numbers of people coming into a very small area in a very short time.

The UNHCR representative said there was very limited preparedness to extend humanitarian assistance to such a large number of people.

Adar said the UN refugee agency was moving to mount the initial response as quickly as possible as they prepare for an enhanced operation. Though the Congolese refugees are known to return to their home areas when guns die out, it may not be possible this time round.

In an earlier statement from UNHCR, Adar said that whole families with people carrying mattresses, pots and pans, and even poultry are still arriving.

Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) has so far registered 66,139 people.

An emergency assessment mission involving the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF last Friday found that people were in urgent need of food, water, tents and household items.

UNHCR has sent plastic rolls for shelter construction, plates and cups for cooked meals, and temporary latrine kits as well as soap.

An emergency shipment of tents, blankets and mats has also been sent to the area.

WFP has so far delivered 54 Metric tonnes of food supplies, enough to feed 20,000 people for five days.

The URCS has organized communities to cook and serve hot meals. URCS has also delivered tents and household kits.

UNICEF has sent a water tanker to ferry water while initiating a process to deploy a collapsible water tank to the area.

Other organisations involved include Lutheran World Federation and Medicines San Fronteras—MSF.
MSF is sending a medical team and supplies, including two mobile clinics, as well as a much-needed water tank with seven distribution tap stands.

Local authorities in Bundibugyo have identified a site in nearby Bubukwanga Sub County, just 8Km outside Bundibugyo town, to relocate the refugees from the five schools where their presence has interfered with education.

However, UNHCR says people were still reluctant to move to Bukukwanga sub-county because they wanted a place from where they would go home to their gardens in the morning and return to the safety of Uganda in the evening.

Some of them have, however, agreed to move after a sensitization by the humanitarian agencies in the area.

The UNHCR country representative said they want to move the refugees to a safe place away from the border and ensure they are not a burden to the host communities.

Health concerns are starting to come up due to congestion and being a mountainous area its cold during the nights, a situation that exposes people to a risk of diseases.

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