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25,000 Congolese Home From Burundi

Landmark UN Convoy Brings First Of 25,000 Congolese Home From Burundi

New York, Oct 11 2006 2:00PM

A landmark United Nations convoy has brought the first group of nearly 25,000 Congolese refugees back home from Burundi in another sign of the gradual return to normalcy in the war-torn country.

The group of 282 refugees, who had been living in the Gasorwe refugee camp in northern Burundi, were first brought to a United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) transit centre in the border town of Uvira in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Monday before being returned to surrounding communities on Wednesday.

The returnees received basic assistance packages including household items, plastic sheeting, blankets and a three-month food ration to cover immediate needs while they begin to rebuild.

The repatriation from Burundi is the fifth “return corridor” the UNHCR has opened to the DRC since the agency began assisting the return of Congolese in October 2004, first from the Central African Republic, then successively from the Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Sudan.

Since July, more than 1,000 Congolese refugees in Burundi have registered for voluntary repatriation. A second convoy from Burundi is scheduled on October 17.

Due to security concerns, related to the second round of the DRC presidential election, cross-border repatriation movements are to be suspended from October 21 until November 6 but are expected to resume soon afterwards.

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Of the estimated 24,500 Congolese refugees in Burundi, some 11,000 are living in Gasorwe and Gihinga refugee camps, while the rest are scattered in urban areas. In all, there are still more than 420,000 Congolese refugees in various countries of asylum.

The majority of Congolese refugees in Burundi fled from the DRC's South Kivu province. Others came from the more distant provinces of Katanga and Maniema. Most of them fled to Burundi during the 1998 fighting between the government and rebel forces. Since then, some smaller groups have arrived sporadically in Burundi, fleeing long-term insecurity and instability in the DRC.

Among the returnees was Sumaili Mahonesho, 36, who said on the eve of her departure from Gasorwe that she had been dreaming of going back home for the past four years. "I have stayed in this camp for long enough. The only thing I did here was to wait for the monthly food ration. Since the situation has improved, it is time to return to Uvira," she said.

Sumaili, who is from Uvira, left with two of her six children, but has heard that the others are safe and with an aunt. Her 12-year-old son Espoir said he was looking forward to seeing his old friends and started reciting their names.

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