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More than 100 Congolese refugees killed in boat accident, Uganda says

By Philippa Croome, CNN
updated 3:25 PM EDT, Mon March 24, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The death toll in a weekend boat accident on Lake Albert hits 107, Ugandan officials say
  • The overloaded vessel was carrying Congolese refugees back home, officials say
  • Many Congolese and South Sudanese have sought refuge from conflicts in Uganda

Kampala, Uganda (CNN) -- The death toll after from a boat accident on Lake Albert between Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo climbed to more than 100, Ugandan authorities announced Monday.

"By (Monday) 107 bodies have been recovered, and most of them are children," said Ugandan police spokesman Patrick Onyango, adding that at least 45 people have been rescued as divers continue to comb the area. "The boat driver only counted 96 adults; he didn't count the children when they were boarding."

The passengers were Congolese refugees trying to return home in one of two boats that left from the Kyangwali settlement camp in western Uganda on Saturday morning. As many as 250 people may have been aboard the boat when it capsized. Overloaded boats are a common cause of death on Lake Albert and across the lakes of the Albertine Rift region.

The United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR said in a statement Monday that it has seen a rise in the number of Congolese refugees returning spontaneously to Congo over the past three months.

Uganda is a major refugee-hosting country in the region, with more than 320,000 asylum-seekers and refugees. Thousands of new refugees arrived from South Sudan after conflict broke out there at the end of last year.

As a result, Uganda's transit centers and refugee settlements have been overcrowded. Aid workers have been struggling to provide services to more than 175,500 Congolese refugees.

The passengers of the capsized boat included some of the 66,000 who have fled to Uganda since July to escape fighting in eastern Congo, UNHCR said.

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