The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today started escorting home hundreds of refugees who fled fighting in the eastern region in June, but who had returned to the country from Burundi despite continuing regional instability.
While weekend protests against their return died down in Uvira, the 1,600 refugees waited at the border for six days for permission to repatriate.
A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jennifer Pagonis, told journalists in Geneva, “UNHCR’s position remains that the South Kivu region of eastern DRC is still volatile, and conditions for return are still very difficult. We have advised the refugees to consider these constraints.”
Given the large numbers who decided to return, however, the refugee agency was establishing an office in Uvira to monitor the returnees’ situation and to provide them with assistance.
Troops from the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and the Congolese national military started taking them in small groups from a temporary transit area near Uvira to districts that included Uvira itself, Baraka, Minembwe and the Ruzizi Plain.
Of the 20,000 Congolese from the Kivu region who escaped the conflict only a few thousand now remained in Burundi, UNHCR said. About 1,325 were in the new Gihinga camp in Mwaro province and another 300 refugees were scheduled to join them there next week. At least 1,200 others went to Rwanda, it said.