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Burundi: DRC refugees being moved away from border

Briefing notes

Burundi: DRC refugees being moved away from border

6 August 2004

We have started moving refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who fled fighting in June, away from the Burundi border zone to a camp further inside Burundi. On Tuesday, 139 refugees were moved from transit centres in the Cibitoke border region to Gasorwe camp in Muyinga province in the north-east of the country. A smaller group of 12 individuals moved to Gasorwe from the Gatumba transit centre on July 29. Gasorwe already hosts some 8,000 Congolese refugees who fled the DRC in previous years.

There are some 20,000 Congolese refugees in the three border area transit centres of Rugombo, Karurama and Gatumba, and as agreed with the Burundi government we will relocate them to a safer location away from the border once a suitable site has been decided upon.

A UNHCR verification exercise recently completed among the refugees showed that the numbers in Burundi were significantly lower than estimated after the initial influx in June. The verification counted 19,429 refugees, down from an earlier estimate of 34,000, which was based on figures provided by refugee representatives. The exercise enabled us to get a more accurate count, and confirmed a total of 10,780 refugees at Rugombo, 6,882 at Karurama, and 1,767 at Gatumba. Some refugees have returned home since the initial influx, although some may have later returned to Burundi after checking on the situation in their home villages. In recent weeks, new arrivals from the DRC have slowed to a trickle.

The Government of the DRC has lately called on the refugees to come home. The DRC's minister for social affairs, M. Ingele Ifoto, led a 16-strong delegation from Kinshasa to the three transit centres on Saturday. UNHCR stressed to the delegation that we are not promoting organized return of the refugees as we do not consider the situation suitable for return.

We are urging the Burundian government to keep the border open so that refugees can return if they want and also to allow any Congolese to seek refuge in Burundi if they feel the need. Over the past few weeks, border crossings have been subject to intermittent closures for security reasons.

There are two main border crossing points - at Rubenga and Rukana - both along the Ruzizi river. The Rubenga crossing, where there is a small fleet of ferry canoes (pirogues), is currently open. Our monitors say Rubenga crossing is not busy, with an average of around a dozen people crossing each day, mostly traders doing business at Rugombo market. The other crossing at Rukana is closed due to the current absence of a pirogue service. The local administration is looking at ways of bringing a pirogue service to Rukana.