"Relocate Burundian Refugee Camps far from the borders before it's too late"

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We, the High Council of M’mbondo Community, hereby expresses concern of the majority of the population of the Fizi district about the increasing insecurity due to the establishment of Burundian refugees’ camps  along the Lake Tanganyika in Fizi district, South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Burundian refugees’ camps have been settled in the Lusenda, Lulinda and Bamate villages of Fizi district, just at less than 5 kms from Lake Tanganyika considered as the natural border separating Burundi and the DRC. These camps hosts more than 20,000 Burundian refugees who fled the intensified unrest and political instability that followed the re-election of President Pierre NKURUNZIZA for a third term in March 2015. Let’s underline that these camps are at less than 5 Km from Lake Tanganyika, our natural border with Burundi, and less than 50Km including the territorial water belonging to DRC, i.e 12 nautical miles equivalent to about 24Km. It should be recalled that the most recent history of the location of the refugee camps near the borders of the refugees' countries of origin and the non-compliance with the legal provisions relating to the management of refugees (which different stakeholders including the UN refugees Agency, have the obligation to ensure its best application), has recorded disastrous consequences which still weight on our country and its population’s shoulders paying thus the heaviest price.

We are concerned that, given the already tangible evidence of growing insecurity due to armed gangs not otherwise identified that plague the main RN5 road, Fizi a yet to stabilise district, may again fall in the nightmare of atrocities while attempting to heal its trauma caused by the 1998 war breakout and trying to return back thousands of its population still stacking in refugees in camps in Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Honorable High Commissioner, note that from 1996 to date the DR Congo has been continuously victim of the incessant wars and aggression by the neighboring countries including Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, violating thus its territory sovereignty under pretext of tracking armed groups that infiltrated Rwandans and Burundians refugees camps in 1996. These intrusions have destabilized not only the DRC but also the whole Central Africa with enormous damage in DR Congo and on its population.

In 2004, the Rwandese-speaking Congolese refugee camp of Gatumba in Burundi was established at less than 2 km from the Burundian border with DR Congo and has been attacked by armed groups no otherwise identified and refugees were massacred with heavy tributes to hosting communities. The Gatumba massacres are another indicator that it is unwise to establish a refugee camp no far from the borders of the refugee's country of origin, especially if we consider the geopolitical context in the Great Lakes region. These incidents and several unfortunate events that are still very recent in relation to this region with its share of violence and insecurity destabilizing yet not only the eastern part of our country but the whole of the national territory, requires you and other stakeholders to take precautions.

Finally, we would like to recall the interview on TV5 Monde of Mr. Andreas Kirchhof, the UNHCR External Relations Officer in the Lusenda refugee camp, on 14 May 2017, who underlined that this district (FIZI) is not in anyway the first choice for someone fleeing his country because there are still several armed groups and gangs. In the same reportt, the journalist talks about the problem of refugees who live in fear because there are pro Burundian government militias who infiltrate the camp. And towards the end of this report, there are two refugees living in the camp who testify and deplore the infiltration of burundian pro-government militias, who enter the camp with guns such as Kalashnikov, Uzi, R4, and so on. These recurrent infiltrations of militias close to the Burundian government in the Lusenda camp prove that these refugees are not secure a few kilometers from their country of origin.

Considering all the facts above, we therefore urge you to consider the relocation of the Burundian refugee camps as an emergency for the security of these asylum seekers and for the stability of this part of the country; and we discourage any other initiative of establishing additional  refugee camps in this yet to stabilise zone. We know that DRC is a signatory to the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and, as such, it has an obligation in the name of international solidarity to grant asylum to the applicants. But for the sake of security of refugees and Fizi population we therefore recommend the following:

  • Immediately relocate the burundian Refugee Camps from Lusenda, Lulinda and Bamate to more than 150 km inside our borders to ensure the safety of the refugees against any persecution from gangs and militia from their country of origin and to stop any attempt by the latter to use these camps as their back bases since the closeness of the camps with the country of origin of refugees enable them to make recurring uncontrolled shuttles between the two countries. The stabilization of the DRC depends on it;
  • Abandon any initiative to open additional camps in the same Territory of Fizi, not far from the borders of Burundi;
  • Implement the above-mentioned measures which would be corollary to the implementation of the New Year's Eve Agreement in DRC which also requires the relocation of all refugee camps in the DRC to more than 150 km within our borders.

Thanks

High Council of M’mbondo Community, Fizi



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