Scores of refugees have over the past one week crossed into Uganda from DR Congo (DRC) to Uganda following an outbreak of fresh fighting in war-torn eastern part of the country.
Although the numbers of recent arrivals are still relatively small, the authorities fear that the trickle could soon become a flood and compound the already overly burdensome refugee situation that Uganda faces.
The latest Congolese arrivals are mainly Bagegere, Lendu, Hema and Alur from Joo, Muvarama and Njugu areas in eastern DRC. They are reportedly fleeing from insecurity following clashes between DR Congo government troops and armed militia groups. There is also reported fighting among different militia groups.
“I have fled from fighting between the Lendo and Bagegere. There was fighting in my village on Monday, where many houses were burnt. There are some people who were murdered. I decided to escape through the bush until I reached the shores of Lake Albert where I boarded a boat to come here,” a Congolese refugee who identified himself as Roge Mwambu, said.
Uganda and Rwanda are keenly interested in the affairs of eastern DRC, with each of the countries worried that groups that are keen to destabilise it are harboured there. The region, part of which has been ravaged by Ebola for more than a year, has also been a source of conflict between Uganda and Rwanda.
The refugees are arriving through Kasenyi, Kaiso, Nsonga, Kaiso and Sebagoro landing sites on Lake Albert.
“We received 35 refugees on Wednesday at Nsonga Landing Site and they were taken to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement Camp,” Mr Reginal Ngamita, the Buhuka Parish chairman in Kyangwali Sub-county, said.
He, however, said some Congolese refugees escape from Kyangwali refugee settlement and go back to DRC, only to return to Uganda a few days later.
The latest arrivals of Congolese nationals started at the weekend, witnesses at the landing sites on Lake Albert say.
Ms Jolly Kebirungi, the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement Camp commandant, confirmed to Saturday Monitor that the settlement continues to receive fluctuating numbers of refugees daily.
“Since December 2017, we have been receiving Congolese refugees. At one point, the numbers reduced but of late, on average, we are receiving between 45 and 55 refugees on a weekly basis,” Ms Kebirungi said.
The arrivals, she said, are not yet an overwhelming number to qualify being an emergency or influx.
The refugees are being received at gazetted reception centres, where they are screened by medical and security officials. They travel by canoes and boats across Lake Albert and are received at Nsonga and Sebagoro landing sites that have been gazzeted by government to receive the refugees.
They are received by officials from the Office of the Prime Minister, who are working closely with Medical Teams International, Lutheran World Federation, United Nations High Commission for refugees, among others.
Shortly after landing, the refugees are screened for Ebola, cholera and other hemorrhagic fevers, according to Dr Joseph Ruyonga, the Hoima District Health officer.
At the landing site, the refugees wash their hands with water containing a disinfectant.
They are taken to tents, which have been erected in a waiting area where medics observe them for about 30 minutes and, thereafter, one by one are screened for Ebola and other fevers.
The police and UPDF soldiers that are deployed to monitor the arrival of refugees then check the luggage of the refugees to ensure they do not smuggle into Uganda arms, ammunitions and other illegal items.
After the screening, they are taken to a transit centre from where they wait for transport by bus that takes them to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement Camp in Kikuube District.
Optimism greeted the installation of Mr Felix Tshisekedi as president of DRC at the start of the year, ending years of uncertainty over political transition in the country. Mr Tshisekedi hit the ground running, looking to normalise relations with neighbours and mediate between Uganda and Rwanda, but the real challenge for him is to stabilise his own country, especially the eastern part.
By the latest count, Uganda hosts at least two million refugees, who arrived from its two troubled neighbours - DRC and South Sudan – and other countries, including Rwanda, Burundi and Eritrea.
Congolese refugees in Uganda. Since December 19, 2017, Congolese refugees started arriving in thousands in different parts of Uganda.
However, between July and December 2018, the numbers reduced.
At the start of May this year, the numbers increased, with about 200 refugees arriving in the country per day.
In 2017, Kyangwali Refugee Settlement Camp had about 35,000 refugees. But the continuous influx of refugees has shot up the numbers of the refugees in the settlement to 116,000.
The Mineral-rich eastern part of DRC is ravaged by insecurity caused by multiple militia groups and rebels, who are fighting with Congolese government authorities over the control of the lucrative mineral trade.
The Mai Mai, a local militia, has repeatedly attacked Ebola treatment centres in Mangina in North Kivu and Byakoto in Ituri.
The fresh wave of insecurity this week prompted the Congolese to stage protests in Beni and other towns, accusing the United Nations (UN) of failing to protect them from rebel attacks.
The protesters demanded, among other things, the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) to vacate the country.
MONUSCO took over from an earlier UN peacekeeping operation – the United Nations Organization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) – on July 1, 2010.
The new mission has been authorised to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate relating, among other things, to the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the government of the DRC in its stabilisation and peace consolidation efforts.
For more than five days, Congolese traders at Kasindi border point staged a sit-down strike protesting increased insecurity in eastern DRC.
The protest kept the Mpondwe-Lhubiriha border point on the Uganda side closed for about a week as Ugandan traders feared to cross to DRC.