UNHCR advises refugees in Burundi against returning to eastern Congo

News Stories, 6 October 2009

© UNHCR/A. Kirchhof
Congolese refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at Gihinga camp.

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, October 5 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has advised some 2,300 Congolese refugees at a camp in central Burundi to shelve plans to return this week to South Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) because of conflict in the area.

"Due to the ongoing military operations [by the Congolese armed forces against rebel forces] in their areas of origin, UNHCR has urged the refugees not to go back for the moment," a UNHCR spokesperson said. "We have underlined to those planning to repatriate that, under the prevailing security conditions, neither the government authorities in the DRC nor UNHCR would be in a position to guarantee their safety upon return or to assist them in any other way."

The Congolese refugees at Gihinga camp, Mwaro province, originate mainly from South Kivu's Uvira region bordering Burundi. UNHCR, in cooperation with the Burundian government, had planned to move them to a new camp in Bwagiriza, eastern Burundi, as part of a camp consolidation programme. But only 264 agreed to moved, while about 2,300 refugees said they would instead return to the DRC this week.

UNHCR is concerned that the safety of the refugees could be threatened if they return to South Kivu at a time of insecurity in parts of the province. The Congolese refugees said they feared for their safety in Bwagiriza because of its proximity to what they claim is a rival Congolese community in nearby Tanzania.

Despite UNHCR assurances that the camp was at a safe distance from the border, the refugees said they preferred to return to South Kivu and informed local Burundian authorities of their planned departure this week.

"We support return as the preferred solution for any refugee. However, the conditions for organized voluntary repatriation to eastern DRC do not exist at present. We have already been forced to suspend the repatriation operation to eastern DRC earlier this year because of the ongoing military operations," the UNHCR spokesperson said.

UNHCR's office in Burundi assists and provides protection to some 30,000 mostly Congolese refugees living in three refugee camps, as well as in urban areas.

By Bernard Ntwari in Bujumbura, Burundi




DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

Donate to this crisis

Second Dialogue on Protection Challenges, December 2008

An informal discussion among stakeholders about protracted refugee situations.

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.
Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate
Play video

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

The 2013 winner of UNHCR`s Nansen Refugee Award is Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of Democratic Republic of the Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She has helped over 2000 displaced women and girls who have suffered the most awful kidnapping and abuse, to pick up the pieces of their lives and become re-accepted by their communities.
Uganda: New Camp, New ArrivalsPlay video

Uganda: New Camp, New Arrivals

Recent fighting in eastern Congo has seen thousands of civilians flee to a new camp, Bubukwanga, in neighboring Uganda.