Refugee influx into Uganda worrying, warns CARE International
Majority of women have experienced or witnessed gender-based violence on their way to Uganda / Dead refugee bodies thrown into Lake Albert
14 February 2018. The refugee influx from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Uganda is increasingly worrying, warns the international aid organization CARE. Thousands of Congolese refugees arrived into western Uganda over the weekend, a sharp escalation from the 14,000 who had fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into the east African country since December.
“Last week people were arriving in their 100s, now we’re seeing thousands arrive every day,” says Delphine Pinault, CARE’s Country Director for Uganda. “People arrive exhausted, dehydrated, hungry and emotionally devastated. They are running for their lives.”
Many travel to safety by fishing boats from the Congolese side of Lake Albert. A perilous journey taking as much as eight hours.
“We’ve heard stories of people waiting to cross from the other side who are spending the night in the lake for fear of being attacked. They stay in the lake and wait for a boat to take them to safety here in Uganda,” says Pinault.
The majority of refugees are women and children, fleeing inter communal violence in eastern Congo. Most are heavily traumatised. Over the last days however, more men are starting to arrive. An ongoing CARE Gender Based Violence assessment is finding that many women have directly experienced or witnessed at least one form of gender-based violence. Many are forced to pay armed groups to cross into Uganda, using whatever means they have. Some Congolese are executed for attempting to leave DRC.
“Two days ago, three of the boats making the crossing capsized, killing at least four people. We’re hearing harrowing accounts from people who have waited days to make the crossing. They have no food, if they die, their bodies are thrown overboard. There are feces floating in the water, people are bathing in it, others are gathering water. It’s a miracle we haven’t yet had an outbreak,” says Pinault.
The needs are vast, ranging from clean water, food, and shelter to trauma counselling, psychosocial support and general support to survivors of sexual violence.
Uganda is already hosting close to 1,4 million refugees, of whom 1 million from South Sudan and nearly 250,000 from DRC, leaving the country with reduced capacity to face another massive influx of refugees. Many Congolese are arriving into Uganda’s densely populated south west, limiting space for large scale refugee settlements. At least one settlement sheltering Congolese refugees is already about to reach full capacity.
“We are just seeing the beginning of this crisis,” says Pinault. “We need to be prepared to respond to what’s ahead. Our initial calculations expected 30,000 people but we now have to be prepared for as many as 60,000 or more.”
The humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has deteriorated dramatically over the past year. A surge in violent conflict and intercommunal tensions forced more than 1.7 million people to flee their homes in 2017, an average of more than 5,500 people per day. More than 5 million Congolese are now displaced, over 670,000 are currently seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
The majority of Congolese refugees arriving in Uganda are from North Kivu but refugees from violence in other parts of eastern Congo are also making the journey including Djugu territory and Rutshuru province.
Uganda has a population of nearly 1,4 million refugees, of whom 1 million from South Sudan and nearly 250,000 from DRC.