Authorities in Bundibugyo District have raised concerns over the disappearance of more than 900 Congolese refugees who arrived in Uganda following attacks by suspected ADF rebels in eastern DR Congo.
The group, initially comprising 1,202 refugees, was registered and screened by midday on Tuesday, with temporary shelter provided.
However, only 224 refugees were transported to the Bubukwange Transit Centre in Bundibugyo by Wednesday evening.
Francis Senyondo, the district refugee focal person, suspects that the missing refugees may have integrated into the local community illegally.
Efforts are underway to identify and relocate them to the transit camp.
“We have only transported 224 refugees; three people took themselves to the transit centre, and the rest have mixed with the community, which is illegal. We are tracking them to return them to the transit camp,” Mr Senyondo stated.
According to Mr. Senyondo, they have raised awareness among the public through radio programs about the dangers of welcoming refugees into homes and the advantages of transit centers, where the government offers the required assistance.
“When these refugees go to the community, they will start competing with people for food and medicine in health facilities. Yet in the transit centre, they are looked after by the government. If their areas stabilise, they can be taken back,” he explained.
It’s worth noting that a considerable number of individuals in Bundibugyo District have family ties in DR Congo, engaging in frequent border crossings for agricultural activities and clan visits.
As of Tuesday, the Uganda Red Cross reported that among the 1,202 refugees entering Uganda, there were 293 adults aged above 18, 293 children aged 0-4, and 516 children aged 5-17.
The influx of refugees from DR Congo into Bundibugyo halted on Tuesday due to the flooding of River Lamia. However, stringent security measures at the border remained in place to prevent potential infiltration by suspected ADF rebels.
Expressing concern, Mr. James Baluku, a resident of Bundibugyo Town, highlighted the security risks associated with refugees integrating into the local community.
“As residents, we remain worried. How do you allow someone into your family and start staying together? What if he is an ADF rebel and kills you?” he wondered.
“Let our local leaders try to identify such people and have them taken to camps. We see many new faces in the town, and you can’t tell where they come from,” Mr Baluku said.