Government offers new sites for DRC refugees

Thousands of Congolese refugees in Burundi are to be relocated away from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), an official from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday. The announcement comes a week after a massacre of 160 refugees last Friday on a transit camp at Gatumba, which is only 1 km from the border.

"Some 18,000 Congolese refugees living in three transit sites will be able to relocate either to a camp in Gisozi, in the central province of Mwaro, or at Giharo, in the southeastern province of Rutana," said the UNHCR Public Information Officer in Burundi, David Short, at a news conference organized by the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB).

The government and UNHCR are due to sign the convention on Monday; building of the camps could start as early as Tuesday. The camps will be in accordance with an international convention, which requires refugees to be located at least at 50 km from the border of the country they fled.

"The refugees may be reluctant to leave their transit centres. They claim that they would not be secure in the countryside," Short said. "We will begin an awareness campaign in the three transit sites in an effort to reassure refugees that the new sites are safe," he added.

In the meantime security has been beefed up in the transit camps. The ONUB civilian spokesperson, Isabelle Abric, said that UN peacekeepers have increased their daytime and night patrols along the shores of Lake Tanganyika and on the border between Burundi and DRC. Security at the Congolese refugee camp at Gasorwe, in the northeastern province of Muyinga, has also been strengthened.