A big number of Congolese refugees from Bunagana town council in Kisoro district have returned home following their displacement. About 30,000 refugees crossed into Uganda following last week heavy fighting between the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels and Congolese government troops in Rutshuru Territory, North Kivu province.
The fighting claimed the lives of four M23 rebels and two FARDC soldiers in Murujinga and Mukiharo-Bunagana. The Congolese troops took about 10 rebels hostage according to a security source in Rutshuru. Due to the huge influx, the refugees decried a crisis of food, water, accommodation, soap, and drugs among others.
Kisoro district authorities closed Bunagana Primary School to provide temporary shelter to the refugees. However, many of them didn’t get space and stayed in the cold on the verandahs in Kisoro town. Two children died of suspected pneumonia resulting from too much coldness.
The toilets at Bunagana primary school and the town council toilets filled up in two days due to the high numbers of refugees, which raised concern among the authorities. On Thursday evening, Kisoro district authorities held a meeting with their Congolese counterparts where they resolved to give the refugees two day’s ultimatum to either go to
Nyakabande refugees transit centre or return home.
The Congolese security authorities revealed that the area is now safe since the guns went silent on Tuesday evening. On Friday, the Uganda Red Cross Society and police conducted a drive advising the refugees to either return home or join the transit centre for easy management.
In the afternoon, many refugees opted to return to Rutshuru. Jean-Paul Nkurunzinza, one of the refugees, said that he decided to return home despite that he didn’t have any guarantees because of the hunger and water crisis. Nkurunziza said that he spent two days without eating anything.
Safari Barrack-Jira, another refugee from Tchengerero village, said that he decided to return home because he was tired of sleeping in the cold.
Abel Bizimana, the Kisoro District LC 5 Chairperson, said that he is happy with the decision advising refugees to either go to the transit centre or return home because they were causing insecurity and exposing residents to health and sanitation risks. He noted that the refugees are responding positively by returning to their country.
Douglas Asiimwe, Acting Commissioner for Refugees in the office of the prime minister told URN that by Friday evening, only about 2500 refugees had registered to stay at Nyakabande refugees transit centre Nyakabande with a big number opting to return home. He revealed that about 7000 refugees were still in Bunagana town council.
He adds that authorities are also not sure if every refugee is leaving Bunagana but promised that they will keep monitoring the situation to make sure that they vacate.