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Tanzania / Eastern D.R. Congo / Burundi

Briefing notes

Tanzania / Eastern D.R. Congo / Burundi

22 October 2002

Hundreds of Congolese refugees fleeing weekend fighting for the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) town of Uvira arrived in western Tanzania yesterday (Monday) as the impact of the most recent conflict in the south Kivu region spread to more countries in the Great Lakes region. The more than 500 Congolese new arrivals in Kigoma, Tanzania, bring to nearly 13,000, the number of Congolese who have sought asylum in neighbouring countries following the recent fighting in south Kivu. The majority of the refugees are in Burundi, while smaller numbers have also gone to south - western Rwanda.

This fresh wave of Congolese refugees into Tanzania comes on top of a sudden large influx of Burundian refugees as well. So far this month, more than 11,000 Burundian refugees have fled to Tanzania - 5,000 of them last week. The new arrivals are outstripping UNHCR's reception capacity at a transit centre in Mbuba, close to the Kobero/Ngara border.

We fear that more Congolese may be headed for Tanzania following unconfirmed reports on Sunday that the retreating Mai - Mai militia who had held Uvira for about one week, withdrew southwards from the town, taking with them a significant number of civilians. Refugees arriving in Kigoma on Monday said they were forced to flee southwards, along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, when Burundian border authorities denied them entry into Burundi.

On Saturday, Burundi closed its borders to an estimated 20,000 Congolese who had fled an overnight counter - offensive for Uvira by the rebel group - Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD - Goma). RCD - Goma recaptured the Lake Tanganyika town they had lost to rival Mai - Mai militia on Oct. 12. The 20,000 stranded Congolese returned to their homes on Sunday following an appeal by RCD - Goma leader Adolphe Onusumba for their return. Onusumba also addressed thousands of Congolese refugees who are being assisted by UNHCR at two sites in western Burundi, asking them to return home. Refugees at these sites said they would prefer to watch the situation in Uvira before making a decision about their return.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is continuing to register the increasing numbers of Congolese refugees at two sites in the west and north - west of Burundi. By Sunday, more than 5,200 refugees had been registered at a temporary site at Gatumba, close to the Burundi capital, Bujumbura. Further north, 4,600 refugees were being assisted at a site in Rugombo, Cibitoke Province. Some 2,500 other refugees - including 2,000 in villages close to Rugombo and 500 who arrived on Sunday - were yet to be registered. UNHCR has constructed 41 communal shelters for more than 3,000 people in Rugombo. However, the site is not big enough for all the refugees in and around the area, so we're now identifying an additional site with Burundian authorities.

Social workers at Rugombo have been able to reunite most of the 50 unaccompanied children with their families. More than 30 teachers have also been identified from within the refugee population. The teachers have agreed to work with UNHCR and other partners to set up programmes for nearly 3,000 children registered at the site.