It is 7:00am and refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo are about to enjoy their first meal of the day-breakfast, out of three meals provided at Nyakabande Transit Centre in Kisoro, Western Uganda. Byamungu John is seated with his family waiting for his wife to return with sugar for the family to have their porridge. John is the sole bread winner for the family of twelve that includes his wife, sister in law and nine children. Byamungu was working to fend for his family until the fighting in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) intensified. “We would hear gunshots and reports of people being kidnapped and killed,’ says Byamungu. This forced Byamungu and his family to start their journey for refuge in Uganda.

On February 4th 2018, they carried a few belongings and walked from their home in Moba village which is 7km away from Moba Port. From Moba Port, they took a boat to Uvira and got public transport to Bukavu which is a distance of 150kms apart. They walked 600kms from Bukavu to Goma where they found a truck that offered them a ride to Bunagana border arriving at the transit centre on February 15th 2018. Byamungu lost his professional documents amidst the different means of transport.

A refugee John prepares for the first meal of the day

Byamungu was happy with the treatment he received alongside his family at the Uganda immigration office. ‘The team was welcoming and we got transport to Nyakabande Transit Centre by UNHCR. Uganda refugee policy is very impressive. We were able to forget about our worries for a moment’, says Byamungu. At the transit centre, shelter for men is different from that for female and this was not good news for John but he was happy he did not have to worry about attacks at night. ‘I wish my children could continue learning,’ explains Byamungu in a heartbroken tone.

Nyakabande transit centre is located in Kisoro district. If logistics are available, refugees stay at least two to three nights before they are transferred to Kyaka II Refugee Settlement in Kyegegwa district which is estimated to be a seven-hour drive (415 kms) from Kisoro. Currently, 14,399 refugees have been relocated to Kyaka II since the beginning of January 2018. 61 per cent of DRC refugees are children. The population comprises mostly children and women.

The Office of the Prime Minister Commandant for the transit centre Mr. Esau Bahikayo is calling upon all partners to advocate for peace in all countries as a durable solution for movement of refugees.

UNICEF is supporting screening for malnutrition and appropriate care, measles vaccination for children, Vitamin A and deworming at transit centres. UNICEF with its partner Save the children are providing psychosocial support through establishment of integrated child friendly spaces at Nyakabande. This helps to protect children from physical harm and psychosocial distress and to help them to continue learning and developing skills even in emergency setting. Children access structured play, recreation, leisure and learning activities and also a venue to identify vulnerable and at risk children to facilitate their referral for immediate response. At the transit centre, 1,478 children had benefited from child friendly space activities by the end January 2018. Of these, 381 children were below six years.

Susan Birungi Nyakoojo, Emergency Officer at UNICEF Mbarara Zonal Office said that the child friendly space is the first interface for children at the reception centre. They engage in play, story-telling and learning which helps them to forget about prior traumatic experiences from home. This in turn gives them an opportunity to grow as children.

Uganda is home to 251,730 refugees from DRC of which 48,105 arrived in Uganda since 01 January 2018 with a daily average influx of 681 refugees.

UNICEF’s 2018 funding appeal to respond to DRC refugees is over US$ 10,600,000 with a funding gap of 89 percent. If funding is availed, UNICEF will be able to respond to Nutrition, WASH, Health, Child Protection and Education needs among Congolese refugees. It will help to improve emergency preparedness and response capacities, including the ability of the Government of Uganda to respond to the ongoing influx of refugees and disease outbreaks in refugee hosting districts.