Ugandan officials say thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are crossing the border to avoid fighting between armed groups. Ugandan Red Cross Society officials say the numbers are weighing heavily on humanitarian response teams.
Eastern Congolese men, women and children are being registered and evaluated at the Kisoro District Transit Center.
Twenty-two-year-old Enge Nema, speaking to VOA on the phone, said that a barrage of bullets had hit her village in Kibaya and it forced her to flee.
She said that her and others’ journey had been very difficult. She said that they are suffering, going on foot, and running away with their belongings, exhausted. He said that he could not find a place to sleep and had to sleep outside in the cold. It was intense, she said.
Fighting between armed groups is reported in the areas of Tshanzu and Runoni near the Virunga Mountains in the Congo, leading to an exodus.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says fighting has forced 11,000 people to flee to Uganda since late Sunday.
Natukunda Primrose, Red Cross branch manager of Kisoro district, says many refugees slept at the border because there was no vehicle to take them to the school facility which is being used as a transit center in Nayakbande town.
“They are tired and most of them were probably bringing a mat, a mattress and perhaps their animals, such as sheep, goats. They need support and I don’t think they have anything to eat,” Primrose said.
Rukundo Manasseh, chairman of the Kisoro District Disaster Management Committee, described the situation on the border as worrying. He said the refugees needed protective gear, medicine, food, water and hand-washing facilities.
He also said he needed tracing services – especially for missing children.
“This number is a little unusual. We’ve never had such a large number before. What we’re working on is closing in with the UNHCR to see if they can come quickly and for those Those who are willing to go to the camps, and are picked up,” Manasseh said.
The UNHCR says that together with the Ugandan government, they have so far transferred about 500 asylum seekers to the Nayakbande Transit Center, which can accommodate 1,500 people.
UNHCR officials are concerned that local capacity and services may soon be overwhelmed and request urgent resources to meet the needs of new arrivals.
So far this year, the agency says, it has received only 45% of funding for its operations in Uganda, a country that hosts about 1.4 million refugees, more than any other in Africa.