After refusing to allow a group of refugees to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the country's authorities have reversed their position, opening the border and allowing the first group of 200 back in, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) announced today.
Some 1,000 Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsi) who had massed along the Burundian border are affected by the decision of the Kinshasa Government, which initially said it lacked adequate transit facilities to accommodate them.
After the authorities agreed to let the refugees return home on Monday, a first group of 200 were taken into the DRC under the protection of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) to a transit centre near the Congolese city of Uvira. The rest are due to return to the DRC today after verification by MONUC and Congolese authorities, UNHCR said.
"UNHCR has repeatedly advised the refugees that the situation in their home region of South Kivu remains volatile, and that return at this stage could be difficult," stressed UNHCR spokeswoman Marie-Hélène Verney at a news briefing Tuesday in Geneva. "However, the refugees are determined to return home, and we are putting in place an emergency assistance programme in their home area that will include the opening of a UNHCR office in Uvira."
The returning refugees are part of some 20,000 who arrived in Burundi in June after they fled fighting in the South Kivu region.
In the past two weeks, UNHCR has transferred around 1,300 refugees to Gihinga camp, further inside Burundi in Mwaro province, following a brutal attack on Gatumba transit centre in August which left some 160 Banyamulenge dead. Another 1,240 Congolese refugees have left Burundi for Rwanda in recent weeks.