The presence of uncontrolled armed groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has led to severe insecurity and displacement of people. The terror these groups have unleashed has included sexual violence, killings, arbitrary executions and other gross human rights violations.
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled to Uganda to escape the violence. Many fled to the Rwamwanja refugee settlement in western Uganda, which is being run by an ACT member.
In the first three months of 2013, the number of Congolese refugees at Rwamwanja rose from 20,000 to more than 50,000, putting huge pressure on the site. By the end of 2013, the settlement housed 54,000.
During the year, our member took over most of the responsibilities of the camp, including water and sanitation, livelihoods, environment and community services (such as security and protection), and looking after the elderly and unaccompanied minors. Our member also works in the Bubukwanga transit centre, which funnels new arrivals to the camp.
However, with the settlement spread over 104km2 and 26 villages, it has been difficult to reach everyone with services and food. Refugees are facing many serious problems, including limited access to basic services and sexual- and gender-based violence.
At the settlement there is an urgent need for more legal and social support, and for more health workers, to respond to those cases that are reported. Available data shows that 85 per cent of the people at Rwamwanja are under 18, and the ACT appeal is particularly addressing the vulnerability of young people to abuse.
South Sudan crisis puts further pressure on the camp
The South Sudan crisis also added to the numbers of refugees arriving in Uganda. Emergency food rations have been diverted from Rwamwanja, leaving the Congolese there on half rations.
ACT’s work on livelihoods – enabling farmers to produce food on the site – has become vital. At the end of the year, Jesse Kamstra, country representative for our member operating the Rwamwanja camp, said: “Thankfully the situation in the DRC is calming down. While most people are still afraid to return, as the last groups of rebels are still being disbanded, some people are returning home. But with the recent influx of 74,000 South Sudanese refugees, agencies are diverting resources away from Rwamwanja. This means that investment in livelihoods, for people to provide for themselves, is important to reduce the suffering of the people there.”
The refugees are uncertain about what the future holds. They are dealing with unfavourable dwellings, rudimentary hygiene and sanitation, and limited food, clothing and medical care.
While ACT’s appeal cannot change all of that at once, our work helps to save lives and provide essential care for the most vulnerable among them.