Burundi Refugees Killed By DCR Security Forces

Thirty-nine Burundian migrants and a Congolese soldier were killed in a clash in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last week, with reports suggesting as many as 117 migrants were also injured in the incident.

The clash took place in the eastern town of Kamanyola in the DRC after Burundian migrants had gathered to protest the detainment of four fellow nationals. As the demonstrations escalated, Congolese security forces allegedly responded by opening fire on the crowds, while protesters threw rocks in retaliation.

The United Nations (UN) has called for an investigation into the incident, following contradictory accounts by both parties. UN News reports that teams from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), including medical staff, were sent to attend to the wounded and assess the situation.

Since 2015 thousands of Burundian nationals have fled the landlocked East African country, seeking refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to UN News, more than 43,000 Burundian migrants are currently taking shelter in DRC. 2000 of which are located in Kamanyola, where the recent confrontation took place.

The significant number of people fleeing Burundi in recent years has been attributed to human rights violations occurring across the country. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry made statements this month, condemning the government of Burundi – headed by the contentious President Nkurunziza – for perpetrating humanitarian crimes against the population. Alleged violations range from torture, sexual violence and executions. This state of affairs is said to have been in effect since 2015, amidst the violence which occurred in the aftermath of President Nkurunziza’s contentious electoral victory.

In commenting on the allegations, which are reported to be perpetrated by high-level Burundian government and public sector officials, the Commission of Inquiry noted that it receives “…consistent  information confirming that these violations are still taking place in Burundi today.” Despite this, the government of Burundi maintains its firm denial of such allegations.

In a series of statements on Twitter, the Foreign Minister of Burundi, Alain Aimé Nyamitwe noted that the “… incident reminds us all that management of Refugee camps has to comply FULLY with the #Geneva Conventions on Refugees.”

According to a UNHCR report, the number of displaced people worldwide reached an unprecedented 65.6 million last year. The recent killings in the DRC should serve as an important reminder to the international community that the safety and security of refugees must be actively protected in such turbulent times.