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DRC: Burundi border returnees to head home, but warned of difficult conditions

Briefing notes

DRC: Burundi border returnees to head home, but warned of difficult conditions

15 October 2004

Today, some 1,600 Congolese refugees who crossed from Burundi back into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after spending six days waiting at the border last week, will be transferred in small groups from the temporary transit centre in Uvira in the eastern Congo, to their areas of origin

They are currently under the protection of the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) troops in a transit centre consisting of three large sheds. Relief assistance is being provided by several United Nations agencies.

Those refugees near enough to their homes will walk under military protection, while others will be transported in trucks. In some cases, for those living in very remote locations, MONUC helicopters may be used. The refugees' areas of origin include Baraka, Minembwe, the Ruzizi plain, as well as Uvira where the transit centre is located.

After initial unrest at the weekend to protest against the return of the refugees, the situation in Uvira is now quiet. No more new arrivals from Burundi have been reported at the border.

UNHCR is concerned that the situation in the South Kivu region of eastern DRC remains volatile, and conditions for any return of refugees are very difficult. We have advised the refugees to consider these constraints, and have expressed our strong concerns on several occasions in recent weeks that the information provided by some of the authorities and other groups may not be in the best interest of the refugees.

Nevertheless, since so many have returned, UNHCR is sending an emergency team to open an office in Uvira in order to monitor the situation of the refugees. The Office will also start putting in place a programme for the repatriation of Burundian nationals who took refuge in DRC.

Only a few thousand of the 20,000 Congolese who fled the fighting in the Kivus in June are still in Burundi. Some 1,325 are in the new camp of Gihinga, in Mwaro Province, where another convoy of 300 refugees is scheduled to arrive next week. Others - over 1,200 registered, although the numbers could be higher - have left for Rwanda.