Thousands of people are fleeing from the Democratic Republic of Congo into neighboring Rwanda following the renewal of fighting between DRC government forces and rebel groups.
The United Nations says more than 20,000 people have fled the fighting since last Sunday and more than 3,500 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda while the rest are in government-run camps near Goma. The steady influx of refugees is placing a tremendous strain on the Nkamira Transit Center in western Rwanda.
DRC rebel forces include child soldiers
The refugees have left their homes because of fresh clashes between the Congolese army and forces loyal to rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda. Known as 'the Terminator', Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges, including enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
The fighting has left at least 5,000 people homeless. Most of the refugees arriving in Rwanda are women, children, old people and a few young men who were afraid of being forced to join the rebels if they stayed.
The Rwandan response
A joint team of officials from the Rwandan Ministry of Disaster Management and the UNHCR are at the border to register the asylum seekers. Ministry spokesman Jean Claude Rwahama expressed concern at the increasing number of people leaving DRC and the strain this is placing on facilities in Rwanda. He said it's necessary to look into expanding the transit camp and also to relocate some of the refugees in order to prevent the outbreak of diseases caused by overcrowding and poor hygiene.
The Minister of Disaster Management, Marcel Gatsinzi, has been to the Nkamira Transit Center in the western border town of Rubavu to see the situation for himself. He met with UNHCR officials to discuss issues such as providing sufficient food and shelter. He said it had been decided that the refugees should be granted asylum "but now we have more than 2,000 which means the camp must be expanded to accomodate them all."
More basic facilities such as toilets, cooking areas, lighting and showers are urgently needed. Especially as there is no sign of the refugee flood slowing down.
Author: Flora Kaitesi, Kigali / sh
Editor: Asumpta Lattus