Why were 39 Burundian refugees shot dead in DRC?

2017-09-21 14:09
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Dozens killed after DRC soldiers open fire on Burundi refugees

2017-09-18 15:45

The Democratic Republic of Congo government has opened an inquiry, after soldiers fired on Burundian refugees in the eastern South Kivu province, killing dozens. Watch for more. WATCH

Kinshasa - On Friday, Congolese forces opened fire on a crowd of protesting Burundian refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At least 39 people - including a 10-year-old girl - were killed and 94 others injured in the incident in South Kivu.

At least 37 were treated in nearby Kamanyola, while 57 critically injured and were airlifted to Goma for medical care.

Details of the incident are still unclear, with various accounts and official government statements contradicting the UN's comments on the matter.

Here is what we know so far: 

What happened? 

On the night of September 12, the national army (FARDC) patrol arrested four Burundian refugees armed with "weapons" in the DRC town of Kamanyola in South Kivu province.

Al Jazeera has since seen a video showing the four refugees carrying sticks.

They were held for two days by the army and were then taken to the general migration directorate.

On Friday September 15, at around 16:00 GMT, Burundian refugees and asylum seekers living in the area left their camps and went to the office of the National Intelligence Agency to protest the detainment of the four men.

How many people were killed?

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that death toll had risen to 39, including 15 women and a 10-year-old girl.

How has the Congolese government responded?

The Congolese government claims that the army was attacked by armed persons and not refugees.

Lambert Mende, the country's minister of media and communication, told Al Jazeera there had been an exchange of fire and described the encounter "as an attack on the army".

"The [Congolese army] suffered an attack by armed persons. They are not refugees. Who identified them as refugees? An inquiry is opened to identify them," he said.

The government has opened an inquiry into the incident, he said.

The Congolese army is expected to release a statement once the investigation is complete.

How has the UN responded? 

The UN says that those protesting outside the Congolese office were refugees and asylum seekers who had applied for international protection.

Babar Baloch, a UNHCR spokesman based in Geneva, said that the agency has multiple accounts indicating the protest was peaceful but "took a turn [as] security forces fired live fire indiscriminately into the crowd".

MONUSCO, the UN mission in the DRC, condemned the incident and called for an immediate investigation into the matter.

Florence Marchal, MONUSCO spokesperson, described the response of Congolese forces as "disproportionate".

"These people came to Congo for protection. Not to be killed," she said.

Maman Sidikou, head of MONUSCO, also said in a statement that he was "shocked with the large number of civilian deaths" and called on authorities to "switfly open legal actions to establish truth and do justice to victims".

How many Burundian refugees live in the DRC?

Most Burundian refugees arrived in the DRC after the unrest of 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to change the constitution and run for a third term in office.

presidential elections later in 2015 but the country remains on edge with the UN documenting a series of assassinations and targeted killings over the past two years.

Is it safe for Burundian refugees to return?

The UNHCR said that 7200 Burundian refugees have returned so far but that did not see largescale returns in 2017 given there had been an increase in refugee numbers in early 2017.

UNHCR said in a report released in May 2017.

Burundi has repeatedly urged

 refugees to return home and officials in Tanzania, home to more than 250,000 refugees, have also asked Burundians to return home. 

 asked refugees to return home. 

Nkunda told Al Jazeera that there is concerted campaign to get refugees back home. "It is an attempt to show that the country is stable, when it isn't," he said.

In September 2017, UN investigators said that Burundian troops were killing, committing torture and sexual violence, and other serious crimes against Burundi citizens.

"We also noted a lack of will on the part of the Burundian authorities to fight against impunity and guarantee the independence of the judiciary. As a result, there is a strong likelihood that the perpetrators of these crimes will remain unpunished."

Baloch from the UNHCR, said that repatriation has to be voluntary. He also said he was not aware of an attempt by the DRC to Burundian repatriate refugees.

Will the Burundian refugees in the DRC gain justice?

Read more on:    drc  |  central africa
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