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Congolese waiting to leave Burundi, Congolese and Burundi arriving in Rwanda

Briefing notes

Congolese waiting to leave Burundi, Congolese and Burundi arriving in Rwanda

8 October 2004

Over one thousand Congolese refugees who want to return home from Burundi are waiting at the border to be allowed back into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). UNHCR has repeatedly told the refugees that we do not advise them to go home because of the uncertain security situation.

A first group of 406 refugees arrived at the border from the Burundi capital of Bujumbura on Wednesday .This group had originally taken refuge in Gatumba, until the attack on the transit centre there in August. On Thursday, were joined by another 700 refugees from the Karurama transit centre.

Congolese troops asked the refugees to return to Burundi until DRC is ready to receive them and the DRC authorities said they needed to make preparations for the security of the refugees.

UNHCR is visiting the border to monitor the situation of the refugees, and we have urgently called on the national authorities and the United Nations Missions in both Burundi and DRC to do their utmost to reinforce security in area where the refugees are waiting. Two weeks ago, riots broke out in the eastern Congolese city of Uvira to protest against the return of a group of 365 refugees from Burundi. The group had to be temporarily sheltered near Uvira, under MONUC [the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] protection. They have now left to other parts of DRC.

Twenty thousand people fled fighting in South Kivu in June and took refuge inside Burundi. Following the attack against the Gatumba transit centre, the Burundian authorities asked all refugees to leave the area and relocate further inland, where they say their safety can be better guaranteed. UNHCR has been helping refugees move to the camp of Gihinga, further inside Burundi in Mwaro province. Over 1,300 Congolese refugees have moved to Gihinga since its opening on September 23.

In Rwanda, meanwhile, UNHCR has noted in recent days the arrival of almost one thousand Congolese refugees from Burundi, as well as several hundred Burundi nationals of Tutsi origin. The refugees say they fear ethnic violence in the run-up to the general election in Burundi, which under the terms of the country's peace accord is supposed to take place before the end of this month, although no date has yet been announced.