KISORO--When Bahati Tanayeli arrived at a transit centre for Congolese asylum seekers in Uganda, he told a story of suffering common to many.
“I have seven children,” he said, “but I have not seen five of them for weeks. We lost contact in an attack on my village when we ran in different directions. I'm hoping they came to Uganda and live with their grandparents who came earlier.”
Another man who arrived the day before at the reception centre – located at Nyakabande, about 10kms from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – said he too was separated from his wife and eight children during an attack.
“I don’t know how I'm going to find them,” Fauste Butati said. “They don’t even have phones…”
The men looked exhausted and in shock, like many of the asylum seekers who arrived by the hundreds almost daily last week.
In addition to losing contact with family members, the Congolese recount stories of militias attacking villages in the eastern DRC at night, banging on doors and demanding money, assaulting and killing people.
WFP assistance eases lives
The Congolese arrive with their most prized belongings, including mattresses, water containers, farm tools and clothes. One man came with his tool box, another with a sewing machine. One group arrived with just clothing, cooking pans, dry beans and a radio set.
As soon as they arrive at the reception centre, WFP ensures there is food available for them.
WFP programme officer Beatrice Nabuzale explains that most asylum seekers arrive with very little and have not even a place to sleep. They lack cooking pans and firewood and, even if they find sources of clean water, they may not have containers to draw it. That is why it is important for WFP to provide food that partners get to cook on site.
“Also, we keep in mind that many refugees arrive exhausted, having covered long distances," said Nabuzale. "Some arrive carrying hungry, under-nourished, traumatized children, in which case it is hard for them to concentrate on cooking.”
“What we need the most in Uganda is a place to rest, so we don’t have to keep running from gunfire,” said Fauste Butati. “We want to be able to sleep in peace and to grow crops.”
He said that what mattered the most to him in Nyakabande was to know that he would not go hungry.
The asylum seekers are only able to cook for themselves when they move into refugee settlements, after they have undergone screening, registration and been allocated private residential plots of land by the Ugandan Government. WFP cooked meals are therefore provided for the few days the Congolese spend at Nyakabande and also during the first few days that they spend at settlements before getting family rations from WFP that they can cook themselves.
Some 100,000 Congolese refugees are now receiving food and special nutritional assistance from WFP so they can restart their lives in Uganda.