Recent violent clashes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have forced thousands to escape to neighbouring Uganda, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported on Friday. 

UNHCR, together with the Ugandan Government and partners, is assisting some 10,000 people who have found shelter in the southwest Kisoro district, after fleeing the violence which began on Monday. 

They have arrived from the DRC’s Rutchuru territory, located less than 10 kilometres from the Bunagana border crossing in Kisoro. 

“As people arrived in Uganda on 28 and 29 March, artillery fire and gunshots could be heard from across the border, indicating that clashes were ongoing. Six people arrived with gunshot wounds and were taken for treatment,” said Joel Boutroue, UNHCR’s Representative to Uganda. 

Thousands displaced in DRC 

Additionally, nearly 36,000 Congolese have been displaced within the DRC, most of whom are being accommodated by host families, or in markets and schools. 

Although security conditions are making it difficult to reach them, UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) have established a joint task force to organize the delivery of humanitarian assistance. 

UNHCR and Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister, are responding to the emergency, in coordination with district and local authorities, as well as partners. 

The agency has already relocated around 2,530 asylum seekers to the Nyakabande transit centre, located nearby. 

Mr. Boutroue reported that heavy rains have made conditions even more difficult for people who have arrived with only the few belongings they could carry.   

Many unaccompanied children 

While Uganda has currently closed the Bunagana border to trade, it remains open to asylum seekers.  Some are also entering the country through irregular border crossings. 

“We have also observed many unaccompanied children, older people and wheelchair users among those fleeing the violence,” he added. 

“Most of the new arrivals are sheltering in and around the market and elsewhere in the community. As with many previous incidents, they want to stay close to the border so they can more easily get news of what is happening in their villages, in the hope that the violence stops, and they can return home.” 

UNHCR has also established a system for identifying and fast-tracking people who need emergency assistance.  

Funding shortfall 

The agency commended Uganda for again welcoming people uprooted by violence. The country hosts more refugees than any other nation on the continent.   

This year, UNHCR will need more than $343 million to support its operations in Uganda, but so far, less than 10 per cent of funding has been received. 

Meanwhile, the humanitarian needs of more than 5.6 million internally displaced people in the DRC are also largely unmet due to lack of funding.  Operations there, which total some $224 million, are only eight per cent funded.