Congolese Refugees Fleeing to Uganda Recount Horrors

The wave of ethnic violence sweeping through northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo has forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Nearly 50,000 have crossed into Uganda.

The waters of Lake Albert look beautiful and even inviting, but they can also be dangerous. The U.N. says several Congolese refugees have died this year making the five-hour crossing to Uganda in rickety boats.

More continue to arrive every day. They are fleeing communal violence in Congo’s Ituri Province. Tam Daniel Rogers is the UNHCR field officer at Sebagoro landing site.

“And some are even taking cattle, like goats, like chicken and like cows. So one of the boats that capsized was apparently carrying 27 cows. All the cows died, but the human beings were rescued,” said Rogers.

Many of the refugees VOA saw arrive came with few belongings. Many are searching for lost children and loved ones. DuniasikwetuSorongani has not seen his wife in a month.

He said when the attackers came, they came in the night and killed many youth who were in the neighborhood. I was inside the gate and heard cries outside. When I got out to check, I found all my neighbors had been killed with machetes. I was forced to run.

At Sebagoro landing site, volunteers call for the new arrivals to line up to board the bus.

There is pushing. The refugees say they are exhausted.

Tit-for-tat conflict between the Hema and Lendu communities in the Ituri province of DRC has simmered for decades, often over land.

Survivors say unlike in the past, they were given no warning of recent attacks. And women are not spared.

Refugee Shantal Love said they burned my house and all my belongings. So, we had to run empty-handed. Even the clothes I am wearing now were given to me by good Samaritans at the border.

She got away with her two children. Her parents and other family members were killed.

In the span of three days in mid-March, the U.N. refugee agency said 4,000 people from Ituri crossed into Uganda.

The new arrivals eventually make their way to the Kyangwali refugee settlement � many still coming to grips with the violence they fled.

Refugee KaigwaChe said, “I’ve heard on the radio the Lendu saying they are our brothers. But why is it that when those people come and start cutting people with machetes, arrows, spears and axes? Why is it that the soldiers don’t retaliate? Why? That surprises me. If it’s politics, we don’t know.”

The reception center in Kagoma has grown overcrowded. Kyangwali authorities fear for another outbreak of cholera.

In February, more than 600 refugees were infected and 26 died. Now, the Uganda Red Cross is taking no chances.

But even with such reminders, Red Cross volunteers say they struggle to enforce hand washing rules.

Since 2016, Uganda has taken in more than one million refugees from South Sudan, seriously straining resources. Amid the steady influx this year from Congo, Ugandan authorities only know too well that they need urgent donor support.

Source: Voice of America

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