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Disaster on the lake

By Agencies

Boat accident kills over 100 refugees on Lake Albert

Two days after capsised on Lake Albert, the Uganda police marine department had retrieved 108 bodies. The ill-fated vessel which had been transporting Congolese refugees returning to their homeland capsised on Saturday March 22. «As many as 250 people may have been aboard the boat,» said the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in a statement.

The UN agency said staff were «shocked and saddened» by the «tragedy … in which a large number of Congolese refugees, including children, were drowned.»

The boat that sank was «one of two that left from Hoima district on the eastern (Ugandan) side of the lake on Saturday morning, carrying refugees who had been living at Kyangwali refugee settlement but were heading back home to eastern DRC of their own accord,» the UNHCR said.

Survivors were taken to Bundibugyo district, to the southwest of the lake, where they were placed under the care of the Uganda government officials, the UNHCR, and its partner agencies, according to the statement.

Relatives have come from the DRC in a bid to identify family members at the district hospital.

Navigation on lakes can be as perilous as sailing in high seas when the weather is rough. Accidents often lead to very high casualty tolls, partly because of a lack of life-jackets and also because relatively few people know how to swim.

Saturday’s disaster happened just days after the DRC authorities launched a campaign to enforce the wearing of life-jackets aboard all boats on the large nation’s many waterways.

The UNHCR said that Uganda remains a haven for refugees. While most of the newly arrived ones have fled conflict in South Sudan, the country is still home to 175,000 Congolese among a total number of almost 329,000 refugees registered at the end of February.

The agency has in the past three months registered «a rise in the number of Congolese refugees spontaneously returning to the DRC», after the Congolese army last November won a major military victory over rebels of the Movement of March 23 (M23) in the troubled east.

Congolese people who decide to go home either cross Lake Albert or travel by road, the UNHCR said, adding that a campaign to warn refugees of the risks of taking to the water had started.

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