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Burundi: border Congolese allowed to re-enter DRC

Briefing notes

Burundi: border Congolese allowed to re-enter DRC

12 October 2004

More than 1,300 Congolese refugees in Burundi, who had massed for several days at the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), were yesterday allowed to re-enter the country. The DRC agreed to reopen the border in the early afternoon, and began processing the returning refugees. By the end of yesterday, some 200 people had been processed and allowed to proceed under the protection of the United Nations Mission in the Congo, MONUC, to a transit centre near the border town of Uvira. The other unprocessed refugees are expected to follow today.

Those remaining faced another night out in the open in the so-called no man's land, in the rainy season. To give the refugees some shelter, UNHCR Burundi arranged an emergency distribution of plastic sheeting along with soap and jerry cans prior to the refugees' exit from Burundi. This distribution added to the assistance the refugees received from UN agencies over the weekend.

For background, the first group of some 400 Congolese refugees from nearby Gatumba arrived at the frontier last Wednesday, followed the next day by another wave of 700 refugees from Karurama transit centre some five kilometres away. For six days the refugees stayed overnight in the open to put pressure on the DRC authorities to let them in.

Until yesterday, the DRC authorities had refused them entry, citing a lack of transit facilities in the border area and saying the new influx was too large for normal control checks at the tiny border crossing. The previous weekend, 365 refugees from Burundi had also been held up at the border, but were eventually allowed to cross over and dispersed to their homes after staying at transit facilities in Uvira under MONUC guard.

The refugee's border protest led to a visit of officials from DRC to Burundi to discuss the situation with the Burundian government and UN agencies. The Burundian government stressed that the refugees were always welcome to come back inside Burundi if they felt the need to do so.

UNHCR has repeatedly advised the refugees that the situation in their home region of South Kivu remains volatile, and that return at this stage could be difficult. However, as the refugees seem determined to return home UNHCR is putting in place a programme to assist the returnees including opening a UNHCR office in Uvira.

Twenty thousand people fled fighting in South Kivu in June and took refuge inside Burundi. Following the attack against the Gatumba transit centre in August, the Burundian authorities asked all refugees to leave the area and relocate further inland to better guarantee their safety. UNHCR has transferred around 1,300 refugees to Gihinga camp, further inside Burundi in Mwaro province. Another 1,240 Congolese refugees have left Burundi for Rwanda in recent weeks.