The United Nations refugee agency is today sending an emergency shipment of tents, blankets and sleeping mats as part of its efforts to assist some 66,000 refugees who have sought safety in western Uganda over the last five days after fleeing fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), civilians began fleeing after a reported attack last week on the town of Kamango by the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan rebel group said to be operating around the Ruwenzori Mountains of DRC's North Kivu province.
Some 13,000 arrived last Thursday alone in Uganda's western Bundibugyo district and by mid-Sunday, the Uganda Red Cross Society said it had registered 66,139 people. UNHCR said whole families have been carrying mattresses, pots and pans, and children were even carrying chickens.
"This is an extraordinarily swift and concerning influx of refugees into an area with very limited preparedness to extend humanitarian assistance to such a large number of people," said Mohammed Adar, the agency's representative in Uganda.
"We are, however, moving to mount the initial response as quickly as possible while preparing at the same time for an enhanced operation."
UNHCR joined the Office of the Prime Minister and other agencies in providing emergency aid, sending plastic sheeting for shelter construction, plates and cups, and temporary latrine kits as well as soap. The agency has also provided fuel for transfers to a new transit centre, 23 kilometres from the DRC border, and the first 300 refugees were moved on Sunday.
Bundibugyo is a mountainous and densely populated area about a seven-hour drive from the Ugandan capital, Kampala, UNHCR noted. The new arrivals are being received in five primary schools and other sites. Some are staying with families in the community.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered enough food to feed 20,000 people for five days, with more food due to arrive on Monday.
The Ugandan Red Cross has organized communities to cook and serve hot meals, while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other partners are providing water.
UNHCR pointed out that, even before the arrival of the newest refugees, Uganda was already home to more than 210,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers, 63 per cent of whom came from the DRC.