11,000 cross into Uganda fleeing DR Congo fighting: UN

Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of soldiers sitting at the back of a pick-up truck. PHOTO | FILE

At least 11,000 people have crossed into Uganda to escape clashes in eastern DR Congo that flared at the weekend, the UN Refugee Agency said Tuesday.

The number is the largest refugee influx into Uganda for more than a year, said UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo, adding that the vast majority were women and children.

"An upsurge of fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has forced at least 11,000 people to flee across the border into Uganda since Sunday night," Mantoo told a briefing in Geneva."The fighting between militia groups and Congo's armed forces is taking place in North Kivu's Rutshuru Territory."Some 8,000 asylum-seekers crossed at Bunagana town and another 3,000 at the Kibaya border point, both of which are around 500 kilometres southwest of Uganda's capital Kampala."Many people came with cooking utensils, sleeping mats, clothing and livestock, gathered hurriedly as they fled," said Mantoo.Suspected insurgents attacked army positions on Sunday night, DR Congo officials said, sending desperate residents fleeing over the border.The Congolese military pinned the blame on a group called M23, one of more than 120 armed groups who roam the area -- a legacy of regional wars that shook the area more than two decades ago.The UNHCR has relocated about 500 asylum seekers to the Nyakabande transit centre, which can accommodate up to 1,500 people. They have been screened for Covid-19, registered and given water, food, communal shelters and other items such as blankets, said Mantoo.Uganda hosts around 1.5 million refugees -- more than any other country in Africa -- of which around 440,000 are from the DR Congo.Only three countries around the world host more refugees."We are concerned that local capacity and services may be soon overwhelmed and request urgent resources to address the needs of the new arrivals," said Mantoo.UNHCR has received only 45 percent of the funding required for its operations in Uganda, she added.