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Burundi: additional staff to handle Congolese arrivals

Briefing notes

Burundi: additional staff to handle Congolese arrivals

22 June 2004

UNHCR is watching the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)-Burundi border situation closely following the arrival in Burundi of some 31,000 Congolese refugees since June 9. We are deploying 7 additional emergency staff to Burundi this week, with the first team due to arrive on Thursday, and a second on the weekend. They will join the senior emergency officer already deployed.

No major new refugee arrivals from DRC have been reported since last week, but the reported presence of increasing numbers of troops along the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi borders is undoubtedly affecting movements.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, a group of 137 Congolese refugees returned voluntarily to DRC from Rwanda. They were mostly non-Banyamulenges, who had expressed a wish to return home. They were among the estimated 3,000 refugees who fled to Rwanda following fighting around Bukavu in late May. UNHCR staff from Bukavu were at the border to receive the returnees. A second group of non-Banyamulenges will probably be repatriated today (Tuesday).

The government of Burundi has responded to our appeal for land to set up camps away from the border for the new arrivals. The Interior Minister has promised plots in the eastern province of Cankuzo (some 200 km from the Congolese border), which in past years hosted Rwandan nationals before their repatriation in 1994. Visits to Cankuzo to help identify available land should be undertaken this week.

Measles vaccination campaigns for the recently arrived refugee children in Burundi began Saturday. Two people reportedly died from cholera last week, and measures to prevent its spread are being taken at the sites.

On another front in Burundi, more than 52,000 Burundian refugees have returned home from camps in Tanzania so far this year. Today, the border crossing point for returns to the southern province of Makamba officially opens. The first test convoy through this crossing point took place on June 1. This is the fourth crossing point to open for facilitated returns from Tanzania, and the first one in the south of Burundi.

Tomorrow, the eighth tripartite meeting between Burundi, Tanzania and UNHCR will take place in Bujumbura to discuss how the repatriation operation is going and look at how recommendations from earlier tripartite meetings have been put in place.

In all, nearly 188,000 Burundian refugees have returned home since 2002.