February 1, 2018: More than 14,000 refugees, the large majority women and children, have fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Uganda since December 18th 2017, following increased conflict, according to figures from Government of Uganda and UNHCR, said agency CARE International.
Most refugees arrive through the Bunagana border point in Kisoro district, South Western Uganda but some even brave the dangerous waters of Lake Albert to escape the even greater dangers in DRC. The majority of refugees are children (54%).
CARE International staff who conducted a rapid assessment last week explain that while initially more women sought refuge in Uganda, more men have started to arrive in the last week. Many men are still trapped in the DRC, and droves have been executed by the armed gangs for trying to leave the country.
Delphine Pinnault, CARE Uganda Country Director, said: “The use of sexual violence against women and girls in DRC must stop. The world cannot stand and continue to watch and accept what is happening.
“Women, girls and civilians are hunted down by out of control armed groups, forced to abandon their loved ones behind when they cannot flee fast enough, devastated by physical and emotional pain due to assault, rape, loss of friends and families. “I have been working for the protection of women and girls in DRC for two decades now. It is high time we all come together to denounce the massive abuses and demand protection of DRC’s citizens and women and girls in particular.”
An official at the Nyakabande Transit Center in Kisoro District reported that nine out of every 10 women were raped, sometimes more than once and sometimes by gangs, inside Congo but also as they fled to Uganda. “All these women who make it here were victims of rape and other forms of gender based violence. 99% of the pregnant women in this camp will not be able to single out the fathers of their babies, because they have been raped by so many men.”
CARE has also found that:
Evelyn’s testimony, Kyaka II settlement camp, Kyegegwa District
“The sight of my husband being killed is still fresh in my mind. They tied his hands in his back and shot him in the head” says Evelyn. “That same day, I started planning my escape from our village. I was so scared because many people had been killed by the armed groups while trying to flee”.
Fleeing DRC means undertaking an extremely dangerous journey. Like many refugees around the world, people are left with an impossible decision: stay and probably be killed, or risk their lives on the arduous journey. “I had to flee mainly during the night and try to avoid any contact with any militia and government soldiers”, Evelyn continues. She was lucky to reach the shores of Lake Albert, which borders Uganda. But she had to pay 60,000 Uganda shillings to be smuggled across the lake into the neighbouring country.
“Life has been extremely hard for us. Sometimes I ask myself why we had to go through these killings. We are lucky to be here but we all have families and friends still stuck in DRC”.
Testimony: Thomas, Nyakabande Transit Center
Thomas is a refugee from Rutshuru town in North Kivu province, DRC, and has been resettled in Uganda. He is still finding his feet in the new settlement together with his wife and one son. Thomas and his family have been allocated a piece of land and materials to build a temporary shelter.
“I arrived two weeks ago and was taken to the transit center. I have been resettled but I am still so sad…. I have seen so much pain and suffering and I never want to return”, Thomas explained. I had four children. Only one made it with my wife and I across Uganda. “My three other children did not make it across. We ran and they got lost and I assume they are dead”, he added. “They were 4, 6 and 9.”
Stories of separated families like this are common in the settlements.
“All the women you see here were raped on the way here and if they resisted they were executed”, Thomas said.
“Some refugees have managed to be reunited with family members who were separated”, he added. “I hope someday that I would be reunited with my children. If not all three, at least one. However, I know this is unlikely to happen. I am sad that I cannot even bury them if they are dead”, he said.
With limited agencies and organisations responding to this refugee crisis, facilities are stretched, transit centers overcrowded, and sanitation poor.
For more information or to talk to a spokesperson from CARE please contact Edward Ahonobadha on firstname.lastname@example.org or +254 724044770
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