Burundian government to set aside land for new Congolese refugees
BUJUMBURA, Burundi, June 22 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is deploying more staff to Burundi and working with the government to find shelter for some of the 31,000 Congolese refugees who have arrived in the last two weeks.
The refugees had fled their villages in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since June 9, fearing they would be caught in fighting between Congolese government troops and ethnic-Banyamulenge rebels. A separate group of some 3,000 people had earlier arrived in Rwanda after escaping the conflict in eastern DRC's Bukavu in late May.
"No major new refugee arrivals from the DRC have been reported since last week, but the reported presence of increasing numbers of troops along the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi borders is undoubtedly affecting movements," said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis at a news briefing in Geneva Tuesday.
Among the Congolese refugees in Rwanda, 137 non-Banyamulenges returned to the DRC on Sunday and were received by UNHCR staff at the border. A second group is expected to repatriate today.
To cope with the influx into western Burundi, UNHCR has already deployed a senior emergency officer, who will be joined by seven additional emergency staff this week.
The Burundian government has agreed to provide land in the eastern province of Cankuzo (some 200 km from the Congolese border) to set up camps away from the border for the new arrivals. Assessment visits to identify available land should be undertaken in the coming days.
On Saturday, aid agencies started measles vaccination campaigns for the recently arrived refugee children in Burundi. Two people reportedly died from cholera last week, and measures are being taken to prevent its spread at the sites.
Meanwhile, in a separate operation in eastern Burundi, the fourth border crossing point from Tanzania into Burundi was officially opened today. The crossing at Makamba is the first in southern Burundi, marking the expansion of a repatriation programme that has already seen more than 52,000 Burundian refugees return home from Tanzania's camp so far this year.
On Wednesday, the eighth tripartite meeting between Burundi, Tanzania and UNHCR will take place in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, to review the progress of the repatriation operation and look at how recommendations from earlier tripartite meetings have been implemented.
In all, nearly 188,000 Burundian refugees have returned home since 2002.