Uganda: Transit camp set up for refugees from Congo

Publié: 18 juillet 2013 14:11 CET

By Uganda Red Cross Society

He could not afford to leave his goat behind. Clad in a pink shirt, this Democratic Republic of the Congo native crossed the border into Uganda carrying his precious cargo on his back. He is among the 66,139 Congolese refugees who have crossed into Uganda since 11 July, fleeing violence in their home state of Kamango.

He is not the only one to carry that which means most to him. Many of the refugees appeared to carry everything they owned, arriving in Bundibugyo loaded down with food, charcoal, clothes, domestic animals, saucepans, and bedding, uncertain of when they would return home.

“Some settled in primary schools, however, there is not enough space for everyone, so many families are camped outside under the trees and exposed to the elements,” said Catherine Ntabbade, Head of Communications, Uganda Red Cross Society.

The Red Cross deployed its national disaster response team, sending 50 volunteers to support operations at a transit camp which has now been set up in Bubukwanga sub-county, 26 kilometres from the border. A further 50 volunteers remain on standby.

Among the families now settled at the centre, some children can play, but others have sad faces. “We have trained five Red Cross volunteers to provide psychosocial support,” says Ntabbade. “These children have been through so much over the past week, uprooted from their homes. We need to help them work through that.” So far, 20 children – 4 girls and 16 boys – have arrived unaccompanied and efforts are now underway to reunite them with their families.

“Managing 66,139 people is a big challenge,” says Michael Richard Nataka, Secretary General, of the Uganda Red Cross Society. “But with the support and combined efforts of several partners, we are in a position to handle the situation.” Those partners include the Government of Uganda, Oxfam and several UN agencies, including UNHCR and World Food Programme.

Relief aid has started trickling in. The National Society is using pre-positioned items such as tents, mosquito nets, blankets and cooking sets, and has sent them to the affected region. But the needs remain immense. There is an immediate need for food, and access to clean water and health care. 9,240 refugees have been identified as needing special medical attention, including 8,040 children under five, and 200 pregnant women.

Access to clean water is limited, as infrastructure has been overwhelmed. Refugees are resorting to using untreated water from streams and wells, resulting in a high risk of waterborne diseases. The Red Cross is working closely with the World Food Programme to support urgent food needs, and has dispatched medical supplies, including 36,000 water purification sachets, to the area.

For the refugee with the pink shirt and the goat carried on his back, his current living conditions are not ideal, but, they are a lot safer than his home.