UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency on Friday welcomed the decision by the Government of Uganda to give safe haven to thousands of refugees fleeing escalating violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
According to the UNHCR, the refugees had previously been stranded in a remote, inaccessible area in Mahagi Territory since late May.
The Agency, in a statement on Friday disclosed the new arrivals were previously part of a larger group of approximately 45,000 people, according to local DRC authorities, who had attempted to flee towards the Ugandan border with the DRC shortly after deadly militia attacks on civilians in Ituri province on 17 and 18 May.
“Some 1,500 asylum-seekers entered Uganda today through Guladjo and Mount Zeu crossing points in Zombo district. New arrivals were hungry and tired. Many also arrived in a frail state having been in a precarious situation, hiding in the bush for the past several weeks without sufficient access to food, clean drinking water and shelter. Most are women and children, as well many elderly people”– UNHCR.
“My gratitude goes to the Ugandan Government and the local communities for this great show of solidarity with people fleeing conflict,” said Joel Boutroue, UNHCR’s Representative in Uganda.
“It proves that even in the midst of a global crisis like COVID-19, there are ways to manage border restrictions in a manner which respects international human rights and refugee protection standards.”
Uganda’s previous restrictions on border travel in March to contain the spread of COVID-19, halting admission of new asylum-seekers into the country were lifted on humanitarian grounds.
Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni directed its Government to temporarily re-open the Zombo border to allow life-saving aid and protection to be provided to the group of refugees.
The Government revealed border controls are set to be reintroduced on Friday, once the humanitarian operation is complete.
UNHCR said they and their partners, in tabden with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Ministry of Health and the district local government, are working vigorously in Zombo to “strengthen reception capacities at the border, including quarantine facilities, and to ensure adequate levels of emergency assistance are available”.
“All new arrivals will undergo security and health screening at the border. Vulnerable individuals will be identified and fast-tracked for assistance.
“The group will initially be quarantined at Zewdu Farm Institute near the border crossing, which can accommodate some 6,000 people now. UNHCR and partners have installed tents, health screening areas, toilets, handwashing facilities and water tanks.
“Following the mandatory quarantine period of 14 days, in line with national guidelines and protocols, asylum-seekers will be transported to existing refugee settlements”.