By Halima Athumani
KAMPALA, Uganda (AA) – Ongoing militia infighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo is forcing thousands of refugees to flee into Uganda.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency on Thursday, Charles Yaxley, UNHCR Uganda communications officer, confirmed that 6,000 new arrivals came to the country in April.
This is compared to less than 4,000 in the previous three months, with Yaxley describing the situation as “deteriorating”.
According to the UNHCR, refugees report a number of armed groups engaged in the fighting, including the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda-FDLR, the Allied Democratic Force and the Mai Mai militia, among others.
Yaxley told Anadolu Agency: “What we do know is that they are attacking villages, murdering civilians, burning houses to the ground, raping women and kidnapping children and young men into their ranks.”
The new arrivals are placing a strain on meager UNHCR resources, not only in terms of providing them with life-saving assistance but also because reception centers are currently being forced to take in numbers far in excess of their capacity.
There are also reports from refugees that some are having difficulties crossing the border. Yaxley said: “We understand that there are many people who have been internally displaced in the eastern parts of Congo, yet access to their villages by humanitarian agencies has been difficult due to the clashes.”
In April, humanitarian coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mamadou Diallo, voiced concern over the fate of more than 35,000 people who had fled the area of Mpati, in the Masisi Territory of North Kivu province.
This followed clashes between the Congolese army and armed groups. Since March 27, five sites for internally displaced persons have been emptied, forcing thousands to seek safety in surrounding villages and countries, including Uganda.
There are now more than 200,000 Congolese refugees in Uganda; almost 16,400 of these people arrived this year alone and the number of new arrivals continues to increase.
The infighting comes at a time when the DRC prepares for elections in November this year. The 2016 elections are different in that they mark the end of Kabila’s second of two constitutionally mandated terms as president.