Kampala- Uganda (PANA) -- Renewed fighting in the North Kivu region in the eastern part of Congo Democratic Republic has forced thousands of Congolese to flee to neighbouring Uganda, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said.
UNHCR said in statement issued here late Friday that about 4,000 Congolese have fled into Uganda and are now being hosted by Ugandan families in Kisoro district.
"The Congolese new arrivals say that they are not in need of assistance at the moment, as they are cared for by the Ugandan population hosting them," said UNHCR spokesperson in Uganda, Robert Russo.
"For the time being, they would not move from the villages along the border to a transit site that UNHCR could establish in Nyakabanda, 15km from the DRC border, as they want to be as close as possible to their homes in DRC and cross everyday to check on their properties and get water and food items.
"In addition to the 4,000 people who are settled along the border, 1,680 refugees have arrived to Nakivale refugee settlement, Isingiro District, directly from DRC in the last three months.
This brings the total number of new arrivals in Uganda to almost 5,000 people," Russo said.
UNHCR expressed concern about the health capacity of the small health centres along the border to handle the presence of an additional 4,000 people and about the fact that food reserves of the local population might run out if the number of refugees increases.
"UNHCR is therefore going to coordinate with the district, central government and other humanitarian actors to see how best to support the local and the refugee population," the refugee agency said.
UNHCR said it was planning a mass information campaign with Kisoro district officials to inform the refugees about their rights and about the assistance they would be offered in the Nakivale refugee settlement, one of the largest facilities hosting Rwanda, Ethiopian and Congolese refugees for over a decade.
"If they eventually decide to move to gazetted refugee settlements, it is important that the Congolese refugees are enabled to take free and informed decisions about their immediate future," Russo said.
UNHCR, the Government of Uganda and other humanitarian actors including WFP, UNICEF, Save the Children, ACF, ARC, MSF France, ICRC, the Uganda Red cross and others are also currently updating the existing contingency plan to respond to large scale influxes of Congolese refugees, in order to be able to provide an effective and timely response to a possible influx of up to 100,000 refugees.
"We remain in daily contact with border and district authorities in Kisoro and we would be ready to intervene within 24 hours by setting a Transit Centre to deliver emergency assistance to the Congolese refugees, if the situation deteriorates and the refugees will require our help" said Stefano Severe, UNHCR Representative in Uganda.
In 2007 only, Uganda received four mass influxes of refugees from DRC.
The majority of the refugees who fled DRC during these influxes have returned home, but over 8,000 of them decided to stay and settle in Nakivale refugee settlement.
Uganda is host to 146,407 refugees, out of which 48,606 are from DRC.