Burundi: Congolese refugees turned away at DRC's border

Briefing Notes, 9 October 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 9 October 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is repeating its call for Congolese refugees currently in Burundi not to return to their native South Kivu. This follows an incident yesterday when more than 400 Congolese refugees from the recently closed camp in Gihinga, central Burundi, were stopped from entering their country by immigration officials of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The immigration services said their actions were based on security concerns for the group. The refugees had boarded 11 trucks provided by Burundian government yesterday morning, leaving behind another group of some 500 refugees waiting for their turn to return. When they reached the border they found it closed and the Burundian authorities took them back to Gihinga.

The refugees are being provisionally sheltered at the former camp, in classrooms and a health centre, waiting for the outcome of discussions between the Burundi authorities and DRC officials, who are expected to arrive in Bujumbura today from Kinshasa. The refugees are being cared for by the Burundian agency responsible for refugees --Office pour la Protection des Réfugiés et des Apatrides-- which is distributing food and water provided by UNHCR and high protein biscuits provided by WFP.

The Congolese refugees who were denied access to their country are those who earlier refused to relocate to the newly established Bwagiriza camp in eastern Burundi, claiming their security would not be guaranteed there. Bwagiriza camp is presently sheltering some 1,200 mostly Congolese refugees, including 599 who voluntarily transferred from Gihinga earlier this week.

UNHCR has repeatedly urged the refugees not to go back to their native South Kivu province in DRC for the moment, stressing that that under the prevailing security conditions neither the Government authorities, nor UNHCR would be in a position to guarantee their safety on return.