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DRC: new wave flees fighting to Burundi

Briefing notes

DRC: new wave flees fighting to Burundi

7 January 2003

A resurgence of fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) South Kivu region has sent a new wave of more than 8,500 Congolese refugees into neighbouring Burundi over the past 12 days. Burundi already shelters more than 12,000 Congolese refugees from an earlier outbreak of hostilities last October. Since December 26, UNHCR has registered 7,386 refugees at a transit site in Rugombo in Cibitoke Province, and 1,200 at another site in Gatumba, Bujumbura Rural.

The new fighting originally erupted December 26 in rural areas of South Kivu. By New Year's eve, it engulfed the strategic town of Uvira on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, sending thousands of refugees across the border. The latest round of fighting for the town once again pits the Mai-Mai militia against the rebel group, RCD-Goma. There are growing concerns that authorities of the rebel RCD-Goma - who control much of the Kivu region and various border crossings in South Kivu - are preventing people from leaving the volatile area.

New arrivals in Burundi say only those with travel documents are being allowed by the rebels to leave south Kivu. The majority of those fleeing to Burundi, however, do not have any papers and are forced to cross the Rusizi River border before dawn when the checkpoints are unmanned. Many say they get to the border by 4 a.m. to cross the Rusizi River separating eastern DRC from Burundi. The waters of the Rusizi are, however, steadily rising due to the rainy season, raising concerns for the safety of those trying to cross.

Meanwhile, UNHCR in Burundi is continuing to transfer refugees from temporary border sites in Rugombo and Gatumba to safer inland camps in Cishemeye, Cibitoke Province and Gasorwe in Muyinga Province. More than 6,500 refugees displaced by conflicts in October remain in the two border sites and are awaiting relocation to the new sites. To date, we have moved 3,013 refugees to Cishemeye and 2,373 to Gasorwe. The expected closure of the border sites will be delayed due to the latest influx of refugees from South Kivu.