Congolese refugees return to Uganda via Bunagana border

Congolese refugees return to Uganda via Bunagana border

A Congolese family who crossed Lake Albert arrives in Ntoroko, Uganda on Saturday [File: James Akena/Reuters]

Hundreds of Congolese refugees who returned to their homes in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu province on Friday last week have started fleeing back to Uganda through Bunagana border in Kisoro District.

The refugees started leaving Uganda after being convinced by Congolese security authorities that calm had returned in Rutshuru Territory where they fled from following the March 28th, 2022 clashes between the M23 rebels and FARDC, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

During the attack, the rebels captured Tchanzu, Runyoni, and Ndiza in Rutshuru Territory, North Kivu province about three kilometres from the main Uganda-DRC border.

Fighting also broke out around mid-day a day after in the hills of Murujinga, Rwanguba, and Mukiharo-Bunagana, also three kilometres to the Uganda-DRC border.

However, FARDC repealed the M23 rebels when they tried to raid Bunagana border after about three and a half hours of fighting.

Four M23 rebels and three FARDC soldiers died in Murujinga and Mukiharo-Bunagana.

Ten rebels were captured alive, according to a security source in Rutshuru.

After the Congolese security authorities assured the refugees of their safety, M23 rebels issued a statement through their spokesperson, Willy Ngoma announcing a ceasefire to pave way for talks.

However, on Sunday, the refugees started fleeing back to Kisoro district claiming that they had tipped on an impending attack by the rebels.

Daniel Kisamo, Settlement Commandant Department of Refugees in the office of the Prime Minister, says that they were surprised to see the Congolese who had crossed back to their country fleeing back to Uganda on Sunday evening citing the tense situation in Rutshuru.

He says that the refugees will this time around go to Nyakabande refugees transit centre instead of congesting Bungana town council like the case was last week.

According to Kisamo, they had registered 2500 refugees at the transit center Nyakabande by mid-day on Monday.

He says that there are currently 6163 refugees at the transit center.

Due to the high influx of refugees, the office of the prime minister and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has been forced to re-use the transit centre at Nyakabande along the Kisoro-Kabale road that had been closed to pave way for the preparations for the construction of John Kale Memorial Institute.

Abel Bizimana, the Kisoro District LC 5 Chairperson, says that his office is partnering with police and other security agencies to make sure that the refugees who cross to Uganda through Bunagana are taken directly to the transit centre since the hygiene and sanitation town council is now at stake due to the huge influx last week.

Bahinein Mugisha, a Congolese refugee says that he and many others were forced to flee back to Uganda due to the high number of rebels in Rutshuru. Mugisha says that the tension and insecurity worsen whenever the government troops decide to hunt the rebels prompting them to start killing the government troops and civilians.

Mahanji Bahitiridi and Fideli Bahati, both Congolese refugees say that they were forced to flee back to Uganda after being tipped off by government security officials and that the area is still insecure.

They claim that they were advised to vacate the area so that government troops get a chance of facing off with the rebels in a fight.

Many more Congolese refugees were still crossing into Uganda by the time of filing this story.

Others were crossing to Uganda to pick up foodstuffs.

Our reporter also saw a heavy deployment of heavily armed Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) and FARDC soldiers in the hills of Murujinga, Rwanguba and Mukiharo-Bunagana.

Police were also seen on standby in Bunagana town council waiting for the refugees crossing into Kisoro.

Meanwhile, the European Commission Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection (ECHO) in conjunction with the Uganda Red Cross Society have donated non-food items to 400 Congolese refugee families for use at Nyakabande refugees transit Centre.

Primrose Natukunda, Uganda Red Cross Society Kisoro branch manager, says that the items include mosquito nets, plates, 20-liter jerry cans, mats, cups, saucepans, and Taupline, soap, handwashing facilities, blankets, hoes and spades among others.

Natukunda says that the beneficiaries fled Congo without anything for use while in the transit centre.

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