Over 6,500 Child Refugees Arrive in Uganda as Violence Surges in the Democratic Republic of Congo

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Nov. 10, 2021)—Over 11,000 refugees, including 6,500 children, have entered Uganda since Sunday night, fleeing escalating violence in North Kivu’s Rutshuru Territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with an urgent need for essential supplies.

About 8,000 of the refugees crossed into Uganda at Bunagana and another 3,000 at Kibaya, two small towns in Kisoro District that are about 500 km [310 miles] southwest of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The vast majority are women and children.

Save the Children is concerned about reports of some refugees returning to DRC in recent days following a security meeting between DRC and Uganda authorities. Repatriation should only happen when it is safe, voluntary, and dignified to do so, and it is currently too early to ascertain whether conditions are conducive to return.

Mothers have told Save the Children staff that fighting hit the villages of Binja, Kinyarugwe, and Chanzu over the past week, which caused them to flee for their lives. Some families arrived with bags packed with cooking utensils, sleeping mats, and livestock, while others arrived with just the clothes on their backs.

Save the Children’s team in Kisoro, Uganda, has been distributing essential supplies, including clothes and hygiene equipment. The agency has also established a child protection desk to identify children separated in the chaos and work to reunify them with family members.

Save the Children welcomed the government of Uganda’s quick decision to reopen the border with DRC, which had been closed to stop the spread of COVID-19, to offer safe passage to the refugees. However, the agency is concerned that local capacities and services may be soon overwhelmed, and is calling for urgent funds to address the needs of the new arrivals.

Dragana Strinic, Save the Children’s Country Director in Uganda, said:

“Our priority right now is to ensure newly arrived children have a roof over their heads, family by their side, warm clothes to wear, and food in their bellies. I’m incredibly proud of our team in Kisoro, who have been working day and night to respond to this crisis.

“We fear however that this is just the start of this new influx, and are concerned that further escalations in violence will force more children and families over the border.

“There are already critical funding shortages, services are overwhelmed, and the humanitarian needs remain enormous. With this latest influx, we are concerned that those limited resources will become even more stretched, leaving thousands of refugee and host community children without access to health care, education, protection, and livelihoods.”

Amavi Akpamagbo, Save the Children’s Country Director in DRC, said:

“We deplore the increasing displacements of populations due to insecurity. Save the Children, through its humanitarian response, helps displaced populations within the DRC, including in border areas and in neighboring countries including Uganda. Today, it is urgent that special attention is given to the situation of children who are the first victims of population movements. Response plans should be reviewed and funding should be made available in time so that during these critical situations children continue to be protected and have access to basic education.”

Save the Children has worked in Uganda since 1959, and is now one of the largest children’s organizations working in the country. The organization reaches the most vulnerable girls and boys and their families, including thousands of refugee children, addressing their health and nutrition needs, their food security, and families’ livelihoods. Save the Children works across multiple refugee sites, providing primary health care, reproductive health care, and childhood vaccinations. The organization also runs child-friendly spaces and is accelerating learning programs and classroom construction so children can catch up on their educations.

Uganda has one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world. The country hosts nearly 1.5 million refugees—the fourth highest in the world—and six percent of them are children.

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