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Nearly 17,000 Congolese refugees now in Burundi, estimates UNHCR

Nearly 17,000 Congolese refugees now in Burundi, estimates UNHCR

The refugee agency is verifying the figure with the Burundian authorities, and preparing various sites to accommodate the recent influx from Uvira and Bukavu in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
15 June 2004
Located near the DR Congo border, Gatumba in Burundi has played host to waves of Congolese refugees in the past, including these who fled south Kivu in late 2002.

RUGOMBO, Burundi, June 15 (UNHCR) - Nearly 17,000 refugees are now estimated to be in Burundi after fleeing fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The UN refugee agency is readying several sites and plans to relocate the refugees further inland this weekend.

Various ethnic groups are on the move from eastern DRC after fighting broke out between the ethnic Banyamulenge rebels and government troops around Bukavu on May 27. Fresh conflicts have been reported around Kamanyola and Uvira.

The recent arrivals in Burundi include mainly ethnic Banyamulenge who apparently fled as a precautionary measure because they were afraid that revenge attacks might occur in the wake of last month's brief occupation of Bukavu. Other ethnic groups living in the region are also fleeing out of fear of attacks by Banyamulenge fighters or conflicts between insurgents and government forces allied with the Mai Mai militia.

In Burundi, UNHCR is working to verify the 17,000 figure with the local authorities. The majority are living in Rugombo transit centre in north-western Burundi. Another 1,500 each are sheltered in centres in Gatumba and Cibitoke.

There are an additional 25 hangars for shelter at Rugombo transit centre, and UNHCR is setting up another transit centre in Cibitoke that can house 20,000 people. The agency is also preparing a site that used to host Burundian returnees in Songore, Ngozi province. Several thousand more refugees can be hosted in the existing Basorwe camp in Muyinga province.

"Due to the ongoing movement of refugees from eastern DRC, we expect to begin relocating groups to these new sites by the weekend," said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis, adding that several thousand Congolese refugees have also arrived in Rwanda in recent weeks.