Thousands flee to Uganda as DRC violence surges

A surge in violence by armed groups in Democratic Republic of Congo has sent a large influx of refugees to neighbouring Uganda.

People fleeing the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo) have reported a surge in arbitrary killings, rapes and abductions by unidentified armed groups.

The violence has pushed more than 10,000 people into neighbouring Uganda since the beginning of December, according to the UN.

Rebecca Salama, a refugee from Congo, told Al Jazeera in Uganda’s Nyakabande refugee transit camp in western Uganda that armed groups kept attacking her village, forcing her to walk into neighbouring Uganda with her husband and five children.

“When you go to pick your crops, or go to the forest for firewood, if you’re a man, they kill you, and if you are a woman, they’ll rape you. That is why we came here,” she said.

Along with other new arrivals, Rebecca continued her journey in a UN truck.

Everyone Al Jazeera spoke to said they did not know which armed group was attacking them, or why.

They said the fighters carried guns, wore uniforms, and spoke languages from all over Congo and neighbouring Rwanda.

Malnourished children

At the transit camp, the refugees go through a mandatory hand and foot disinfection and a medical check.

Rebecca’s baby twins, Kelvin and Kelve, were identified as seriously malnourished.

She said she had not been able to harvest her crops for weeks, and so had not produced enough breast milk.

UN officials told Al Jazeera that those kinds of problems were typical among those arriving at the transit camp, before they could be assisted and taken to long-term refugee settlements.

“Most of the refugees arrive when they’re very tired. Because when you talk to them they have walked for long distance,” said Jimmy Ogwang of UN refugee agency.

“Also we have cases where women arrive and claim they have been sexually harassed or raped, by rebels or militias in DRC.”

Innocent Ndagije, Rebecca’s husband, said they might never go back.

“We’ve heard that here is peaceful, but we’re still on the way. We’re optimistic that everything will be better, and not like Congo,” he said.