- The UN's peacekeeping mission in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) today started escorting home hundreds of refugees who fled fighting in eastern Congo in June, but who had returned to the country from Burundi despite continuing regional instability. The first of more than 1,600 Congolese refugees were transferred today to their homes in eastern Congo.
While protests last weekend in Uvira against their return had now died down, the 1,600 refugees waited at the border for six days for permission to repatriate, according to reports from the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR).
UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told journalists in Geneva, that her agency's position remains that "the South Kivu region of eastern DRC is still volatile, and conditions for return are still very difficult. We have advised the refugees to consider these constraints," she added.
Ms Pagonis further reiterated UNHCR's concerns that the information provided by some of the authorities and other groups "may not be in the best interest of the refugees."
Given the large numbers who decided to return, however, the refugee agency was establishing an office in Uvira to monitor the returnees' situation and to provide them with assistance.
Troops from the UN's peacekeeping mission in Congo Kinshasa (MONUC) and the Congolese national military started taking them in small groups from a temporary transit area near Uvira to districts that included Uvira itself, Baraka, Minembwe and the Ruzizi Plain.
Of the 20,000 Congolese from the Kivu region who escaped the conflict only a few thousand now remained in Burundi, UNHCR said. About 1,325 were in the new Gihinga camp in Mwaro province and another 300 refugees were scheduled to join them there next week. At least 1,200 others had gone to Rwanda, the UN agency said.
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