Over 22,000 people fled DR Congo to Uganda last week following a surge of ethnic violence in the north-east, raising the total number of arrivals to about 34,000 since the start of the year, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said.
At least 30 people were killed in fighting between Hema herders and Lendu farmers in Ituri this month, echoing clashes that killed thousands of Hema and Lendu during a civil war that ended in 2003.
“We have seen in the last weeks on average around 3,000 people are fleeing Ituri per day,” said UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch during a press briefing in Geneva, adding thousands were stranded on the Congolese shores of Lake Albert, marking the border with Uganda.
The UNHCR reported refugees are crossing Africa’s seventh largest lake in canoes and overcrowded fishing boats, a journey of up to 10 hours. Four refugees drowned on Sunday after the canoe on which they had been stranded for two days capsized.
Over 120,000 Congolese fled to neighbouring countries last year after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his mandate in December 2016. His decision sparked a wave of unrest, raising fears the mineral-rich Central African country was slipping back into civil war.
The United Nations earlier this week said matters could get worse, estimating an offensive launched by Congolese troops against Ugandan militants last month might displace up to 370,000 people.
Ugandan authorities were not available for comment.