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Uganda exceeds annual refugee ceiling amid influx from DR Congo

Newly arrived Congolese refugees at the Nyakabande Transit Centre in the southwestern Uganda district of Kisoro. Tens of thousands of refugees have fled into Uganda over the last six months following resumption in fighting between the Congolese army and several rebel factions. PHOTO/UNHCR

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Uganda has hit its annual refugee admission target at half year, exerting more pressure on the country to urgently look for donations if its globally recognized open door policy is to be sustained.

Douglas Asiimwe, the Acting Commissioner for Refugees at the Office of the Prime Minister told journalists on Friday that they had planned to receive an estimated sixty thousand new arrivals but with the influx of refugees from the war-ridden neighboring DR Congo, they have so far registered sixty-three thousand and expecting up to one hundred thousand new arrivals by end of the year.

He says with these numbers, they have run out of space and need to open up new settlement sites as well as land for livelihood as the progressive refugee policy stipulates.

Asiimwe was speaking shortly after a meeting between the Government of Uganda and donor representatives including the Danish Ambassador and officials from the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

During the meeting, Hilary Onek, Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees revealed that the country is battling two crises at ago where in addition to the refugee influx, there is dire food shortage in Karamoja where they are getting reports of people dying of hunger.

He said they need $804million to handle refugee programmes but have only received pledges amounting to $47million so far.

Earlier, donors had resolved to create a solidarity fund to help with such emergencies but Onek says while $530million was pledged, the government account only received $1.5million with contributions from countries such as China and India. The rest he says instead opted to allocate money to local NGOs that operate refugee-related programmes.

With only meagre funds and no more land left for new settlements, Onek says they are in discussions to examine other options they could take which may include letting donors, especially for the case of DR Congo, build Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps within the country.

But on his part, Danish Ambassador Nicolaj Hejberg Petersen said in addition to the funds already extended to Uganda, Denmark has added another $7million to help with the response.

Overall however, there are currently a total of one million five hundred and thirty thousand refugees registered by OPM. Of these, some fourteen thousand are from Ethiopia, ten thousand from Eritrea and fifty thousand from Somalia. OPM notes that there are also a lot of unregistered refugees especially from Congo.

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