Sunday, August 18, 2013

Uganda / DR Congo: The refugee roundabout and the rebel merry-go-round.

UNHCR  reports

Uganda: UNHCR Begins Moving Congolese Refugees From Transit Centre to Settlement in Uganda

                                        Congolese refugees prepare meals in the Bubukwanga transit centre in western Uganda.

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at the press briefing, on 16 August 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. 
Together with the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), on Wednesday we moved the first 864 refugees from Bubukwanga Transit Centre in Bundibugyo District to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, a 10-hour drive to the northeast. There they will receive more comprehensive assistance such as building materials and household items to set up homes for themselves. So far, more than 5,600 refugees have been registered, and the vast majority - more than 80 per cent - have expressed their willingness to move to the refugee settlement.
That should come as no surprise to anyone. Kyangwali Refugee Settlement offers substantially more security.

                                            Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, Uganda 2009 
The move went smoothly on Wednesday with the help of OPM and the Ugandan Red Cross Society. Refugees received water and WFP biscuits on departure and bananas at Kyenjojo way station. Though several buses experienced mechanical problems, the convoy arrived safely in Kyangwali around 18:30.
The Bubukwanga Transit Centre was established on 14 July to accommodate those refugees wishing to move away from the border and access basic assistance and protection. Although a temporary safe haven for those who fled attacks, the transit centre has become congested with close to 20,000 refugees staying in a space of 10.5 hectares designed to accommodate no more than 12,500 people. UNHCR site-planning and shelter experts say the situation poses serious safety and hygiene concerns.
The attacks were by the Ugandan ADF rebels so I guess in one sense this is also a Ugandan issue as well as a Congolese one.
With the onset of the wet season in Uganda, heavy rain has damaged some communal shelters. Bundibugyo District is in a mountainous area and the cold, wet conditions are also responsible for a significant rise in the number of respiratory-tract infections, now the most common ailment at the transit centre. The rain also hampers the delivery of humanitarian aid. For example, roads within the transit centre become impassable for trucks carrying clean water or food for the refugees.
It makes a lot of sense to get the refugees to safety and providing building materials will do a lot to alleviate the suffering. 
Despite overcrowding, refugees continue to arrive daily at the transit centre. Many now make their own way there on motorbikes or on foot from the border more than 20 kilometres away. Some refugees continue to report low-level fighting and instability in DRC. Others who have been staying at the border - and crossing back and forth to gather food during the day - say they are now too frightened to return after hearing reports of people being kidnapped by armed groups.
It must be heart breaking to have crops and housing stolen by the criminal thugs that are the ADF. I fully understand the reluctance of people to abandon what amounts to their lives, but at the end of the day it is the only sensible choice. The Congolese army claim to have regained control of the territory from the ADF but that is obviously not the case. 
UNHCR and its partners on the ground are actively seeking funding for this emergency to assist refugees at the Bubukwanga Transit Centre as well as those moving to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. An emergency regional appeal launched by UNHCR in March for refugees from eastern DRC is critically underfunded - with only 45 per cent of the required USD 22.2 million received to date for the Uganda component. Meanwhile, the new influx of refugees means UNHCR has revised its requirements from the initial USD 22.2 million to USD 43.6 million.
43.6 million is not a lot of money. There are thousands I suspect of individuals in the world with a personal net worth of far more than that. If our governments in the West won't help it is left to us the citizens to do so. I think it might be a good idea for the UNHCR to provide a link to to the appeal though.
The first relocation of refugees from Bubukwanga Transit Centre to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement will now be followed by twice-weekly convoys carrying some 1,000 people each.
I gather that the total displaced is in the region of 66,000 and climbing. There is only so much Uganda and the aid agencies can do.

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