By Pascal Kwesiga
The Congolese Community in Kampala has held prayers for over Congolese refugees who perished in a boat accident on Lake Albert last month.
The prayers at St, Mathias Mulumba Catholic Church in Rubaga, a Kampala suburb, were presided over by Rev Father Joseph Kalenzi.
During the function, the Congolese asked God to forgive their fellow countrymen of their sins and grant them eternal peace.
A total of 109 bodies of Congolese refugees were retrieved from Lake Albert after the boat they were travelling from Kyangwali Refugee Resettlement Camp in Hoima capsized at Kitebere landing site in Kibaale district, a few hours after takeoff, over two weeks ago.
The refugees who were eager to return home following the return of peace in eastern DRC boarded the ill-fated boat at Kenjojo landing site in Hoima district. It’s suspected that there were over 200 people on the boat. A total of 45 people were rescued by fishermen.
A total of 88 bodies were handed over to the Congolese authorities at the border between Uganda and DRC for burial. But the Congolese authorities rejected 21 bodies retrieved from the water 72 hours after they had died.
Addressing a press conference in Kampala on Friday, the DRC ambassador to Uganda, Jean-Charles Okoto Lolakombe, defended the rejection of the bodies saying “They had decomposed and culture does not allow us to burry people 72 hours after they have died. These were buried at Bundibugyo hospital cemetery,” he said.
The ambassador explained that there would be a tripartite meeting between DRC, Uganda and United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Kampala from April 21 to 24 to agree on the voluntary repatriation of the Congolese refugees from Uganda. “All our people want to return home because they know peace has been restored and we want to ensure they are repatriated in a dignified manner,” he said.
The Lake Albert incident, Lolakombe said, would not jeopardize the friendly relations between Uganda and DRC, adding that preliminary investigations have showed that the accident was caused by over loading and poor mechanical condition of the boat.
“We are told the boat had been loaded three times its capacity of 50 passengers. It has about 215 people, 109 bodies were recovered, 45 survived and the search for more bodies is continuing,” he said.
A Congolese delegation, the ambassador said, had found out that their nationals were not running away from the camp due to “poor conditions”.
“We went there and found that the refugees were healthy and they had enough food. There are currently 21,000 Congolese refugees in the camp and many of them have returned home,” he added.