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Tensions in DR Congo may affect refugee assistance, warns UNHCR

Tensions in DR Congo may affect refugee assistance, warns UNHCR

The refugee agency has had to suspend return convoys to Rwanda from Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since fighting began in the town over a week ago. The insecurity has also led UN agencies, including UNHCR, to evacuate some staff, thereby affecting assistance efforts in the area.
8 June 2004

CYANGUGU, Rwanda, June 8 (UNHCR) - Ongoing tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and near the border with Rwanda may hinder efforts to help refugees on both sides of the border, warned the UN refugee agency on Tuesday.

Rwanda closed its border with eastern DRC on Sunday following recent fighting in the Congolese town of Bukavu. While the authorities in Kigali have assured UNHCR that Congolese refugees will still be allowed to cross, no new arrivals were reported in western Rwanda's Cyangugu region over the weekend.

In Cyangugu, UNHCR has registered 2,390 Congolese refugees who fled the conflict in Bukavu in the last two weeks. More than 985 of them are hosted in the agency's Nyagatare transit centre, while others are living with friends and relatives in Rwanda.

A senior UNHCR emergency officer from Geneva will travel to Rwanda on Wednesday to make preparations for a possible further influx from the DRC. The agency is also updating existing contingency plans, working to expand facilities at the transit centre, and sending 10,000 sleeping mats from its stocks in Tanzania.

Meanwhile, continued tensions in the DRC have forced UNHCR to suspend the repatriation of Rwandan refugees in Bukavu. So far this year, the agency has helped more than 5,000 people return to Rwanda from Bukavu and Goma further in the north.

The refugee agency's operations elsewhere in the DRC have also been affected by the evacuation of non-essential staff following the UN's decision to move to a higher security alert in the country.