Refugee arrivals to surge -UNHCR

Thousands of refugees have continued to arrive in Uganda this year despite some positive political developments in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is anticipating a surge in the influx of refugees following reports of deteriorating security conditions in the eastern part of DRC and in the Equatoria region of South Sudan.

UNHCR and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) together with NGO partners are preparing to scale up services for a potential influx of 40,000 new arrivals at reception and transit centres.

According to UNHCR-OPM joint border monitoring reports, so far this year, more than 34,000 new refugees have arrived in Uganda, of whom over 16,000 are from South Sudan.

Arrivals from South Sudan have increased in May by 14 % over previous month with the daily average of 194 arrivals.  Violations of the ceasefire agreement by armed parties to the conflict have been reported by the Ceasefire Monitoring Body (CTSAMM) in Yei River State.

“Should they persist, new arrivals from South Sudan to Uganda may continue to increase during the weeks ahead,” a press statement from UNHCR stated.

The refugee agency further reports of an equally worrying situation on the DRC border which could translate into more refugee arrivals.

According to the statement, over 17,000 Congolese refugees have come to Uganda since the beginning of the year.

“Reports received from various sources indicate that recent hostilities among armed groups in the DRC’s North Kivu province have led to more than 100,000 people fleeing their homes in April.  Of these, an estimated 60,000 people fled as a result of fighting around Kamango near the town of Beni in North Kivu,” the statement reads partly.

Because of the volatile security situation in DRC’s North Kivu province, UNHCR stated, it has been impossible for them to access the area to verify their information.

“UNHCR is alarmed by this situation and the potential for a significant increase in new arrivals, further complicated by the fact that a number of the newly displaced Congolese are fleeing Ebola-affected areas,” the statement further reads.

The total number of refugees in the country is now 1.23 million. Uganda continues to maintain its open door policy of receiving refugees, but the ongoing influx is stretching the available resources to limits, at a time of limited support to the Refugee Response Plan and to UNHCR’s country programme in particular.

UNHCR and OPM are working on site development in Nakivale, Kyaka II where refugees from the DRC will be settled, and Rhino camp settlement in Arua district for refugees coming from South Sudan. UNHCR urgently needs to expand and repair the Reception Centres for new arrivals in Nakivale and Rwamanja, and the transit centre in Bundibugyo district.

UNHCR and partners have Ebola screening facilities at all collection points and reception centres. However these facilities require immediate upgrading, including support to the designated isolation facilities in the districts that host refugees.

Additional capacity and resources are needed for OPM to carry out biometric registration at border points to ensure faster processing of the new arrivals and avoid congestion at the reception and transit centres.

Core relief item (CRI) stocks including shelter materials (plastic sheets, poles) are worryingly low and require immediate replenishment. As a preparedness measure, UNHCR needs to increase the CRI stock to serve the additional contingency of 40,000 individuals. These basic supplies include soap, sanitary materials, blankets, mats, jerry cans, and kitchen sets to cater for the immediate needs of the new arrivals.

“We are very concerned at signs there could be significant further displacement,” said Joel Boutroue, UNHCR Representative in Uganda.

“The Government remains willing and open to receive those fleeing the worst of circumstances. OPM and UNHCR together with their partners are experienced in emergency response and have demonstrated since 2016 the capacity to receive thousands of traumatised people, save lives, register, and document, protect and assist refugees,” he added.