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Thursday, March 05, 2015  

55,000 Congo refugees arrive in Uganda as rebel violence rages
BUNDIBUGYO (Uganda) More than 55,000 refugees from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have arrived in Uganda after fleeing a rebel attack, Red Cross officials said on Sunday, a dramatic rise from earlier estimates.

"Given such numbers there is need for urgent humanitarian assistance, as some of the refugees are sick and have left all their belongings in Congo," Uganda Red Cross official Catherine Ntabadde said.

Tallies made late on Saturday estimated 55,000 refugees had crossed the border, up from 30,000 the day before, she added.

Refugees have streamed across the border into western Uganda's Bundibugyo district since the attack on Thursday, although the numbers of new arrivals crossing on Sunday had slowed to a trickle.

"Many new arrivals are also reported to be staying in the community," said UN refugee agency official Karen Ringuette. "New arrivals are staying at five primary schools and various other sites."

Thousands crowded into the grounds of schools in Bundibugyo -- about 20km from the border with Congo -- offered as a temporary shelter, with many building makeshift shelters or simply sleeping out in the open.

The Red Cross are working with the UN and other aid agencies to set up a camp further inside Uganda, although many refugees appeared reluctant to leave.

"The (Ugandan) government has found a transit camp 8km from Bundibugyo town... There we can start registering them afresh," Ntabadde said.

However, an AFP photographer said that long lines of refugees crossing into Uganda seen in recent days had declined, and that large crowds were waiting to return back into DR Congo.

"I want go to back home, because we are hungry here, and I want to make sure my belongings at home are safe," said one man, who gave his name only as Mateso.

"We hear the rebels have been chased back, so it is better that we go back to the land we know than to go far away to a camp in Uganda."

Ugandan police however were encouraging people to move to the new camp, refugees said.

Residents of Kamango said that public buildings and the hospital had been pillaged but no toll was given of possible casualties.

In Bundibugyo, refugees carried their belongings piled on their heads, including rolled-up mattresses, cooking pots and chickens.

Some refugees complained that while they had seen food delivered by the UN World Food Programme, they had not yet received any.

UN agencies have begun delivering kits to start digging latrines, as well as a tanker to deliver clean water.

Agence France-Presse
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