More than 35,000 refugees who have fled to Uganda this year seeking safety from violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, and 44 humanitarian partners are urgently appealing for $47.8 million to respond to the critical needs of newly arrived refugees.
Uganda already hosts more than 1.5 million refugees, the largest refugee population on the African continent. While the 35,000 refugees who arrived this year constitute only a fraction of that number, their needs nonetheless are great.
UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov said a third of those have arrived in just the past three weeks from the DRC. They had fled intense fighting in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
Sporadic clashes in South Sudan’s West Nile state also have sent thousands fleeing into Uganda this year. Cheshirkov said a large proportion of the refugees this year, as in the past, are women and children.
“In fact, that is one of the priorities that we have," he said. "The prevention and response to, for instance, gender-based violence to child protection needs. But the main thing that we need to provide now is shelter, it is food, it is basic household items, and these things are needed urgently. And that is why we need those funds right now.”
Cheshirkov said the appeal is intended to support an initial emergency response to an anticipated influx of up to 60,000 refugees in Uganda in the first half of this year.
“As reports of violence in eastern DRC and South Sudan continue, this appeal will also strengthen Uganda’s capacity to receive more refugees in case of further displacement," he said. "Funding is also to urgently support needed health care supplies, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene services required to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.”
Cheshirkov said the UNHCR is working with the government of Uganda and humanitarian partners to provide emergency assistance and protection to refugees in border areas. He added that efforts were being made to move them to refugee settlements as soon as possible.