The circumstance of the refugees fleeing the ethnic clashes between the Lendu and Hema groups from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is complicated
For starters, the thousands of mainly Lendu and Alur speaking people were trapped in Lendu forest at the Uganda Congo border in Akaa and partly Zeu Sub County in Zombo district after they were denied entry into the country.
The presidential directives on the prevention of COVID-19 required the closure of the country’s borders to break the chain of possible transmission.
As a result, local leaders cried out predicting a possible humanitarian crisis if urgent special measures were not considered; the group lacked shelter, food, clothing, water and other basic needs.
Further consultations on the emergency situation resulted into the temporary opening of the border by the government to allow entry for the then asylum seekers; a decision that attracted a great applause from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR).
“We are very grateful to the president of Uganda for opening the border for at least three days to allow the Congolese cross into Uganda despite the COVID-19 threats” Said Mr Joel Boutrout, the UNHCR country representative.
He said while acknowledging the challenges the UN body was undergoing under the frightening impact of COVID 19 on the donor community that among others had led to drastic funding cuts.
However, determined to find a home to the fleeing neighbours, the minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees Eng Hillary Onek shortly in a letter dated 28th July directed that the refugees be transferred to Imvepi settlement in the newly created Terego district. This after completing the mandatory 14-day period in quarantine.
This process was duly followed and 985 persons, 508 males and the rest females, 50 separated children were moved to the reception centre at Imvepi, by press time, the UNHCR with all implementing partners was preparing to move the refugees from the reception centre to the newly created Zone IV.
Personal account of events at the settlement
On 20th August 2020, together with a team from OXFAM, we set out to fact find progress on the works leading to the resettlement of the refugees.
As is the protocol, we were received at the office of the Prime Minister (OPM) by one Mr Pascal Adroni, the deputy camp commandant.
During his briefing, he commended OXFAM the lead partner in water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) during the emergency course for the works. The OXFAM project is funded by EU humantarian aid.
He said the refugees consisted mainly two ethnicities of Alur and Lendu and were so far peacefully coexisting having been put in the same reception centre.
Led by Mr Frederick Komakech, the public health and engineering team leader OXFAM, we were next driven more than 10km away to the proposed Zone IV, an expansive bush littered with old natural trees.
Disembarking at the borders of zone III and IV, Komaketch assisted by Martina Candiru, the senior public health promotion assistant took us first to the sanitation corridor which is a selected belt at the back of planned home steads gazetted for sanitary facilities (pit latrines, hand washing, bathing shelters).
We found holes of different intervals and depths covered with logs and poles erected round-about ready for a Tarpaulin cover that will form 2-stance latrines expected to serve 50 individuals.
The bathing shelters not far from the latrine structures are built in such a way to allow for easy drainage, a soak pit is provided and just like the latrines, the poles are awaiting cover.
Candiru said both latrines and bathing shelters are to be allocated based on one’s sex meaning the females just like males would have separate facilities.
We find two tap stands each with four taps strategically located in the middle of the zone nearing completion, each stand, Komakech said is expected to serve 250 people.
The OXFAM refugee engagement and participation officer Ms Lydia Ayikoru said once the tap stands are fully established and functional, a water user committee will be set from amongst the refugees for proper use and management.
A few meters away from the stands, we bump into a busy group led by Mr Habib Adiga, the public health engineering assistant fixing some of the water pipes.
Adiga said his team is drawn from the refugee community with the aim of eventually training them on job to learn some of the basic technical works.
Allowed standards permit for movement of up to 500m to get water and any other stand(s) would be established based on the need, Komakech said.
Before moving out of the bush to embark on the next journey to the reception centre, a team from the UNHCR, OPM and other partners arrived, these are charged with demarcation and later opening of roads for easy mobility. Refugees are also allocated plots for settlement.
By the time the transfer from the reception centre to this final point (Zone IV) is effected on Thursday 27th August, all basic works including road opening are to be ready, the different teams here are under immense pressure to complete the works but in my estimation are equally up to the task.
….. to be continued.