Burundi struggles to cope with Congolese influx

News Stories, 24 October 2012

© UNHCR/B.Ntwari
A group of Congolese refugees after arriving in Burundi earlier this year.

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, October 24 (UNHCR) While tens of thousands of Congolese refugees have fled to Uganda and Rwanda since April, a smaller but significant number of frightened civilians have been fleeing from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and seeking shelter in Burundi.

Some 6,000 Congolese mainly from South Kivu province have crossed the border since January and sought asylum in Burundi, with 4,334 of them arriving between April and September. A peak was recorded in August (1,033) before dipping in September (895). To date in October, 527 refugees have crossed into Burundi. These figures compare to a monthly average of 250-300 in the early months of the year.

The influx has put Burundi's three camps for Congolese refugees Bwagiriza, Musasa and Gasorwe under severe strain and a fourth camp might be needed if people keep arriving. The particularly pressed Bwagiriza camp has a capacity for 8,000 people but is hosting more than 9,900. The camps are run by the government with UNHCR support.

"The most challenging issue is the lack of accommodation for new arrivals as well as addressing the health needs of the increased numbers of vulnerable and sick individuals," said Catherine Huck, UNHCR's representative in Burundi. She stressed that things would only improve once the security situation in eastern Congo had been resolved.

The reasons for the exodus are varied. In the earlier part of the year, hundreds fled across the border to escape clashes in the Uvira and Fizi districts between different armed groups, including the predominantly ethnic Hutu FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) and the Mai Mai militia.

The volatile situation in parts of the province has been exacerbated by conflict since April between the Congolese-speaking Barundi and the Bafuliru tribes, leaving at least five people dead. Tension rose between the two groups following the murder in April this year of the paramount chief of the Barundi. Groups of Bafuliro have also fled violence by different armed groups.

The United Nations and the Congolese government have been trying to broker a peace agreement between the rival communities, with the latest meeting taking place in Uvira at the end of September.

New arrivals at the refugee camps are being housed in covered communal halls normally used for meetings because of the shortage of shelter, but these are also becoming crowded. The government of Burundi recently gave UNHCR an additional 17 hectares of land on which to extend Bwagiriza camp, which is located in eastern Burundi.

But the refugee agency needs funding to build 500 homes, purchase aid items for distribution and provide support to Burundi's National Office for the Protection of Refugees, which registers arrivals.

Burundi hosts more than 50,000 Congolese refugees and asylum-seekers, with about half in refugee camps and the rest living in urban areas. Almost all are from Uvira and some have lived in Burundi for more than a decade.

The situation in North and South Kivu provinces remains volatile, with frequent clashes between different armed groups as well as tension between ethnic groups. In North Kivu, more than 220,000 people have been internally displaced since April by generalized violence and rights abuses as well as fighting between government forces and mutineers of the M23 movement. In the same period, more than 100,000 have been displaced within South Kivu.

More than 40,000 people have fled to Uganda and some 20,000 to Rwanda. In September, UNHCR launched a supplementary appeal for almost US$40 million for its operations to help these people in eastern Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Burundi could be included in any further appeal.

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Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

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