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Diarrhoea kills 26 Congolese refugees in Uganda, infects hundreds

The country’s refugee population has risen sharply recently as people flood in from eastern Congo, where resurgent ethnic and inter-communal violence has uprooted hundreds of thousands.

FILE: Internally displaced people demonstrate during a visit by the US ambassador to the United Nations to Juba in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 25 October 2017. Picture: AFP.

KAMPALA - Twenty-six refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have died in a camp in Uganda from acute diarrhoea, and hundreds more cases have been registered, an official from the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Thursday.

The East African country’s refugee population has risen sharply recently as people flood in from eastern Congo, where resurgent ethnic and inter-communal violence has uprooted hundreds of thousands.

Duniya Aslam Khan, spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Uganda, said health workers from the World Health Organisation, UN children’s fund Unicef and Medecins Sans Frontieres had identified “acute watery diarrhoea” in camps in western Uganda.

She said the condition had already killed 26 refugees from 15 to 19 February, while 424 cases were being treated.

The diarrhoea “has been brought from across the border,” she said, referring to eastern Congo.

More than 4.4 million people have been displaced in Congo, in part aggravated by a political crisis sparked by President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in 2016.

UNHCR says that so far this year, more than 42,000 have already arrived, bringing the total number of Congolese refugees in Uganda to a quarter of a million.

Prospects of fresh aid for refugees in Uganda have been dimmed after allegations that officials had likely inflated numbers to steal relief funds. Other charges include bribery, logistics fraud and trafficking of refugee girls.

The country says it has a total refugee population of about 1.4 million, more than a million of whom have fled from South Sudan’s four-year civil war.

Investigations by both the Ugandan government, the UN and the European Union are underway to verify the charges, and UNHCR has said its donors have told them they will withhold funding until the refugee numbers are verified.

“Our resources are stretched to the limit,” Duniya said, adding they needed new funds to de-congest existing settlements stretched by the Congolese influx.

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