The UNHCR has reported that over 22 000 people have fled from DRC to neighbouring Uganda as ethnic violence in the north-east of Congo surges. Picture: MSF/Supplied

Johannesburg – The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that over 22 000 people have fled from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to neighbouring Uganda as ethnic violence in the north-east of Congo surges.

On Tuesday the UNHCR confirmed that the new arrivals brought the total number of people who had fled to 34 000 since the beginning of the year.

“We have seen in the last weeks that on average around 3 000 people are fleeing Ituri per day,” said UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch during a press briefing in Geneva, adding that thousands remained stranded on the Congolese shores of Lake Albert, which divides Uganda from the DRC.

The UNHCR said refugees were crossing the lake, the seventh largest lake on the continent, in canoes and overcrowded fishing boats.

Four of the refugees died on Sunday during the crossing, which can take up to 10 hours, after their boat overturned.

The continuing unrest in the DRC saw 30 people killed in February alone following fighting between Hema herders and Lendu farmers in the province of Ituri.

More than 120 000 Congolese fled to neighbouring countries in 2017 following the refusal of incumbent President Joseph Kabila to step down despite his term ending in December 2016.

There are growing fears that the mineral-rich country could descend once again into civil war.

During the last civil war in the DRC similar clashes killed thousands off Hema and Lendu before the war ended in 2003. Millions ultimately perished in that war, most of them from hunger and disease.

African News Agency/ANA