For the second time this week, the United Nations refugee agency today warned more than 2,000 Congolese in Burundi not to return to the strife-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which they fled during ethnic fighting in 2004.
The latest warning from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) follows an incident yesterday when more than 400 Congolese from the recently closed camp in Gihinga, central Burundi, were stopped from entering their country by DRC immigration officials.
“UNHCR has repeatedly urged the refugees not to go back to their native South Kivu province in DRC for the moment, stressing that that under the prevailing security conditions neither the Government authorities nor UNHCR would be in a position to guarantee their safety on return,” agency spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing in Geneva.
DRC immigration services said their actions were based on security concerns for the group. The refugees had boarded 11 trucks provided by Burundian government yesterday morning, leaving behind another group of some 500 refugees waiting for their turn to go home. When they reached the border they found it closed and the Burundian authorities took them back to Gihinga.
The refugees are being provisionally sheltered at the former camp, in classrooms and a health centre, waiting for the outcome of discussions between the Burundi authorities and DRC officials, who were expected to arrive in Bujumbura, the Burundian capital, today.
The refugees are being cared for by the Burundian agency responsible, Office pour la Protection des Réfugiés et des Apatrides, which is distributing food and water provided by UNHCR and high protein biscuits provided by the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
The Congolese denied access to their country are those who earlier refused to relocate to the newly established Bwagiriza camp in eastern Burundi, claiming their security would not be guaranteed there. Bwagiriza camp is presently sheltering some 1,200 mostly Congolese refugees, including 599 who voluntarily transferred from Gihinga earlier this week.