Some 10,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been forced to flee to Uganda after the latest wave of fighting between Congolese Government forces and the rebel group M23, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the attacks occurred near the DRC's border with Uganda's south-west Kisoro district. Bombs reportedly fell very close to the border, and amid the shelling, some areas of Uganda were also hit.
Yesterday morning, UNHCR began transporting refugees from the border to the Nyakabande transit centre. As of last night, more than 3,500 people have been moved, the largest number in a single day since fighting began in April last year.
"Many local residents closed their homes and shops and moved away from the border area," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva. "Refugees arriving at the Nyakabande Transit Centre, some 20 kilometres away, told us that they had seen bodies on the DRC side."
UNHCR estimates that there are now around 8,230 people in the transit centre. The agency is providing them with shelter, emergency relief items, and food supplied by the World Food Programme (WFP).
Mr. Edwards reported that many refugees are making their own way by foot to the transit centre despite cold and rainy weather, and he added that many of them are suffering from dehydration and diarrhoea.
"We currently have enough emergency relief items for a population of 10,000. In addition to several hundred family tents, there are 11 communal shelters which each hold about 300 people. A 12th is being erected that will accommodate 600 people," Mr. Edwards said.
However, he added that supplying water to the centre remains a challenge as water pressure in the district is very low. "We are also facing shortages in surgical supplies due to the high number of injured we have received," he said.
The majority of those who fled are young children, and many have been separated from their parents while running from the border. Mr. Edwards said UNHCR has so far received more than 100 children arriving on their own, who are being housed separate tents.
"The situation back in eastern DRC remains tense and volatile with no one prepared to return and people still crossing," Mr. Edwards said. "Security officials report that the town of Bunagana is empty of civilians. As of this morning we are moving people by bus from Nyakabande to a refugee settlement at Rwamwanja, to the north. There they will receive more comprehensive assistance.
So far this year UNHCR has assisted around 50,000 people arriving from DRC. In Uganda, Congolese refugees make up 65 per cent of the entire refugee population and the majority of these have arrived in the last three years.