GENEVA - The United Nations refugee agency says inter-ethnic violence and sexual abuse have sent more than 4,000 people from eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo fleeing to Uganda over the past three days.
The latest exodus from the DRC has pushed the number of refugees that have fled to Uganda this year to 57,000.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told VOA a large majority, 77 percent, are women and children.
“Some of them are arriving in traumatized conditions. As soon as they land, UNHCR has been trying to work with our partners to identify those who need our urgent assistance. But the scale of violence being reported of the increasing numbers is quite alarming and worrying,” Baloch said.
The refugees are fleeing the DRC's Ituri and North Kivu provinces. Most are crossing into Uganda by boat across Lake Albert.
Baloch said they arrive with few or no belongings. He said many are exhausted, hungry, thirsty and sick. He said they recount chilling tales of violence, including rape, murder and separation from family members.
“Armed men are reported to be attacking villages, looting and burning down houses, indiscriminately killing civilian populations and kidnapping young men and boys. A growing number of reports indicate that the violence is taking on ethnic dimensions as tribal groups engage in retaliatory attacks,” Baloch said.
Uganda currently is home to an estimated 1.4 million refugees from South Sudan. The UNHCR fears the number of refugees from the DRC will continue to rise if the violence and horrific incidents of sexual and other abuse continue, sending thousands more fleeing for their lives.