The United Nations refugees body, UNHCR said it “deeply” regretted the tragic loss of life that followed a scuffle between two male refugees in Rhino Camp on 17 June.
Sporadic violent attacks on refugees by fellow refugees in the subsequent days resulted in four confirmed fatalities, including that of a minor. 19 more refugees were injured.
Police deployed swiftly in the camp to secure affected areas as members of the refugee community moved away pre-emptively due to escalating tensions.
Police reinforcements were also sent from Arua and Yumbe districts to maintain law and order amid concerns about likely retaliatory attacks.
“It is tragic that refugees should be killed by fellow refugees in this manner. We send our condolences to the bereaved families,” said UNHCR Head of Sub Office Arua, Bik Lum, adding that medical agencies are treating the injured.”
Tika Zone in Rhino Camp, where the incidents took place, hosts mainly South Sudanese refugees of Dinka and Nuer ethnicity.
While the refugees have coexisted with host communities in relative peace, the attacks in the past few days are said to have created a widening rift between the two refugee groups prompting the authorities to relocate some refugees to a primary school to facilitate protection by police.
According to local police, on 17th June during a World Cup match a dispute arose between two male refugees in a recreational centre in one of the villages in Tika Zone
One of the males reportedly left the centre and when he returned he found that other one had taken his seat.
This prompted a heated argument between the two, which led to the fight that in turn sparked off a series of violent attacks in different villages in Tika Zone.
“Because of the violence, fearful women and children fled into the bush or hastily packed their belongings to move elsewhere,” Lum said, adding that many families are missing members, especially young children. Unconfirmed reports indicate that some refugees have sought safety in the homes of host community members.
Describing actions taken by local authorities and humanitarian partners, Lum said, “Police immediately intensified patrols. We mobilized three trucks and a bus to relocate refugees, mostly women and children, from affected areas to the safety of schools. WFP provided hot meals. The Uganda Red Cross is assisting families to trace their missing loved ones. There are urgent needs for psychosocial support to refugees who are experiencing trauma, relapses and psychological torture.”
Speaking in Kampala, UNHCR Representative Joel Boutroue commended the Government’s swift action to contain the situation.
“We condemn in the strongest terms these senseless acts of violence. I send heartfelt condolences to the grieving families, and sympathize with those who have been injured and/or made to relive trauma. The acts that caused these deaths and injuries are criminal, and the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to book in accordance with the laws Uganda.”
The UNHCR Representative cautioned that the misdeeds of a few should not be attributed to an entire community. “It is telling that such a minor incident should trigger a tragedy of such magnitude. It has created an extremely volatile situation for refugees in Tika Zone who are mostly women and children without the protection of their menfolk. We are following the situation closely and reviewing durable options to maintain peace in the area,” he said.
Boutroue added, “The Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR have agreed to separate the two communities as a priority in order to prevent the escalation of already high tensions between youth on both sides. We are also going to work with the communities to promote peace and reconciliation.”
South Sudanese nationals constitute about three-quarters of the refugee population in Uganda. The majority arrived during the past two years.