"We and our partners are now trying to determine the whereabouts of tens of thousands of internally displaced people [IDPs] from the camps in the Rutshuru area [of North Kivu province]," a spokesman said, referring to the Dumez, Nyongera and Kasasa IDP sites.
UNHCR members of an inter-agency mission visited Nyongera and Kasasa on Monday and Dumez on Tuesday. On Monday, they also passed Kibumba some 40kms north of the provincial capital of Goma and also found this makeshift settlement empty and destroyed. The spontaneous site housed at least 26,000 displaced persons, most of whom are now at Kibati camp near Goma.
The inter-agency mission, carrying medicine and water, was only able to visit Rutshuru, a town some 70 kilometres north of Goma, because fighting between government forces and rebel troops under Laurent Nkunda had died down.
The top priority for UNHCR was to assess the state of the camps and other makeshift IDP sites in the area, and to establish the fate of some 50,000 people who were sheltered there until last week.
"The internally displaced people from the camps around Rutshuru have reportedly fled north towards Nyamirima and Kanyabayonga and eastwards towards Ishasha in Uganda. Many have reportedly joined friends and relatives in nearby villages, while others have sought shelter in churches and public buildings," the UNHCR spokesman said.
Meanwhile, refugees from the DRC continue to cross over to Uganda. Over the weekend, UNHCR teams in Ishasha received more than 1,000 refugees originating from the Rutshuru area. The new arrivals immediately asked to be relocated to Nakivale refugee settlement, 350 kms from the border.
The refugees said they had been displaced for more than two months from their villages and they finally decided to come to Uganda after the IDP camps where they were staying in the Rutshuru area were attacked. In total, some 10,000 Congolese refugees have arrived in Uganda since the latest round of fighting erupted in late August.
At Kibati camp, which now has an estimated population of 65,000 people, UNHCR on Monday constructed the first of at least five large portable warehouses that will be used to provide shelter to the newly displaced families.
Many people are spending the hot and rainy days and cold nights in the open. By Monday evening, some 200 families were accommodated there. Four more warehouses - loaned by the World Food Programme - are planned for construction in the coming days.
Fearing a possible cholera outbreak or typhus at Kibati, UNHCR is in the process of distributing 100,000 bars of soap and 28,000 jerry cans. The agency is rushing to deliver more aid to some 250,000 people displaced since the fighting escalated in August in North Kivu. In the six camps run by UNHCR around Goma, there are now 135,000 displaced people.
A UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans, was due to arrive in Goma on Tuesday from a regional warehouse in Ngara, Tanzania.
By David Nthengwe in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo