Thousands fleeing DR of Congo for Burundi, UN refugee agency reports
The recent flare-up of fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has sent thousands of people fleeing across the border to Burundi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today, voicing concern that intensified clashes could spell further displacement.
Agency spokesperson Millicent Mutuli said the Congolese began leaving over the weekend when heavy fighting broke out in south Kivu between two rebel groups – the Mai-Mai militia and the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma).
“We are increasingly concerned that there may be further displacement if the Mai-Mai offensive in the Kivu region continues,” she said, citing reports that the Mai-Mai militia intend to press on northwards toward the DRC town of Bukavu, on the shores of Lake Kivu, while RCD-Goma rebels say they will launch a counter-offensive to re-capture Uvira. “UNHCR is extremely worried that possible fighting for Bukavu or a counter-offensive for Uvira could lead to further population displacement into Burundi – which is itself fragile from years of conflict – or into south-western Rwanda,” she added.
More than 5,000 refugees reportedly arrived in Burundi on Monday, added to the nearly 2,000 who crossed the border over the weekend, according to UNHCR. Many of the refugees who fled from Uvira are Congolese of ethnic Tutsi origin.
UNHCR, which distributed basic supplies to the displaced families, is erecting large hangars to shelter them. Refugees reported that they would like to return home as soon as possible, but voiced fear that their homes and property had been looted.