Global perspective Human stories

UN agency calls on DR Congo to ensure safety of returnees from Burundi

UN agency calls on DR Congo to ensure safety of returnees from Burundi

Congolese refugee women
The United Nations refugee agency today called on the authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), particularly local leaders in South Kivu, to ensure the safety of Congolese nationals who choose to return to their country after taking refuge in neighbouring Burundi during fighting in June.

According to a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a group of 366 Congolese – including some 230 women and children – who had been sheltering in Burundi’s border area chose to cross back into the DRC on Friday.

They had previously declined the UN agency’s offer to relocate them to a new camp further away from the border in Burundi. The group, made up exclusively of Banyamulenge, or Congolese of Tutsi origin, was initially stopped at the DRC border and told to return to Burundi, which they refused to do, said Jennifer Pagonis.

“The refugees were forced to spend two nights at the border, with no proper shelter [and] UNHCR does not have access to the border area, either in Burundi or DRC,” she told a press briefing in Geneva, noting that military observers from the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) were deployed to monitor the refugees’ situation.

Meanwhile, riots broke out in Uvira – where a transit centre has been set up – after a protest against the return of the refugees turned violent, with several people wounded as a result, she added.

“Congolese soldiers are protecting the centre, and MONUC troops are on the ground,” Ms. Pagonis said.

The DRC authorities want the group to return to Burundi for the time being but UN officials stress that any Congolese nationals should be free to return if they wish, and that it is the State’s duty to protect them.

In June 20,000 people fled fighting between loyalist and dissident Congolese army troops in South Kivu and took refuge inside Burundi. Following the attack against the Gatumba transit centre in August, the Burundian authorities asked all refugees to leave the area and relocate further inland, where their safety could be better guaranteed.