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DR Congo: UNHCR questions expelled Burundians

Briefing notes

DR Congo: UNHCR questions expelled Burundians

15 January 2002

UNHCR staff in Burundi have begun interviewing nearly 200 Burundians who were recently expelled by rebel forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo Island of Ubwari on Lake Tanganyika which separates the two countries. UNHCR is trying to determine why they were expelled. The group is currently encamped in the commune of Rumonge on the Burundi shore of Lake Tanganyika, south of the capital, Bujumbura.

Many of those who spoke to UNHCR said they were second-generation Burundians whose parents arrived in the DRC in their teens. Local authorities in Rumonge confirm that the expelled group are of Burundian origin. They speak Kirundi and Kiswahili. They said they feared that more Burundians could be expelled.

UNHCR has distributed food, shelter material and other basic supplies to the destitute group who allege that they were put on boats by the Goma-based Congolese rebel forces and sent across Lake Tanganyika to Burundi with only the clothes on their backs.

They said that on the morning of 29 December, rebel forces of RCD Goma asked them to gather at a nearby church on the island of Ubwari to hear an announcement. They were subsequently forced on boats and taken to Rumonge on the Burundi shore of the lake. They were not allowed to take any of their belongings. According to them, the rebels said the possessions left behind were "their gift to the Congo." Some people in the group say they were beaten up by the rebel military forces.