Fearing deportation, Burundi refugees quit DRC for Rwanda

File: The refugees belong to an obscure Catholic sect that follows a female prophet called Zebiya. They says they have been persecuted for their religion beliefs. Photo: AFP PHOTO/STEPHANIE AGLIETTI

NAIROBI - A group of 2,500 Burundian refugees, fearing repatriation to their home country, moved from the Democratic Republic of Congo to nearby Rwanda on Wednesday, a spokesman said.

The refugees belong to an obscure Catholic sect that follows a female prophet called Zebiya. They claim to have fled their homeland due to religious persecution.

READ: Congolese refugees camp at UN refugee office in Rwanda, protest food cuts

In January, the group said humanitarian agencies had stopped delivering them aid, after their refusal to register on a biometric database, which they said would violate their religion.

"It has been two months that we have had no food aid from the (United Nations refugee agency), we were living under threat from our Congolese neighbours and we feared being extradited to Burundi," said a representative of the refugees, Dionyse Nyandwi.

He said the refugees had told the UN mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, that they wished to leave "for another country where we would be safe" and the peacekeepers escorted them to Rwanda, some five kilometres away, on foot.

"We are waiting to be registered ... and we hope for a better welcome from the Rwandans because we speak the same language and have the same culture," said Nyandwi of the Burundians who have a similar ethnic background to Rwandans.

In September last year, 39 Burundian refugees died in clashes with Congolese soldiers during a protest over the detention of some of their counterparts.

The UN in January announced a probe into the violence.

Tens of thousands of Burundians have fled to the eastern DR Congo to escape a wave of violence that unfurled in 2015 after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a fiercely contested third term in office.


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