afrol News, 17 January - With the situation in Burundi somewhat safer, thousands of Burundian refugees in neighbouring countries are heading home. While hundreds of Burundian refugees recently were expelled from Congo Kinshasa (DRC), repatriation from Tanzania is to be based on a voluntary basis.
The UN refugees agency UNHCR earlier this week expressed its concern on the forceful removal of Burundian refugees from eastern Congo Kinshasa. UNHCR staff in Burundi have begun interviewing nearly 200 Burundians who were recently expelled by Congolese rebel forces from the Island of Ubwari on Lake Tanganyika which separates the two countries. UNHCR says it is trying to determine why they were expelled.
Many of those who spoke to UNHCR said they were second-generation Burundians whose parents arrived in the DRC in their teens. Local authorities in Rumonge confirm that the expelled group are of Burundian origin. They speak Kirundi and Kiswahili. They said they feared that more Burundians could be expelled.
They said that on the morning of 29 December, rebel forces of RCD Goma asked them to gather at a nearby church on the island of Ubwari to hear an announcement. They were subsequently forced on boats and taken to Rumonge on the Burundi shore of the lake. They were not allowed to take any of their belongings. According to them, the rebels said the possessions left behind were "their gift to the Congo." Some people in the group say they were beaten up by the rebel military forces.
Meanwhile, UNHCR is organising the voluntary repatriation among the estimated 345,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania. The UN agency however said it was not calling for an immediate repatriation because of continuing insecurity in Burundi. A statement issued on Tuesday said that the repatriation of Burundian refugees should be done as rapidly as possible, beginning in February. A triparty commission, which met from 13 to 15 January to discuss the repatriation, was composed of representatives from UNHCR and the governments of Burundi and Tanzania.
The UNHCR said on Thursday that while it had agreed to help Burundi refugees wishing to return home by registering them and helping them with transport, the agency would not establish repatriation programmes to encourage returns until the security situation improved. UNHCR also said that the agreement with the Burundi and Tanzanian governments would protect refugees returning home. "Until now, the refugees went back home on their own initiative and faced a lot of problems on the way. Some of their difficulties will be eased by the new approach," he said.
Sources: Based on UNHCR and afrol archives