Estimating that up to 17,000 refugees had entered Burundi to escape fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on Tuesday that it was preparing several sites farther inland to which to relocate the refugees.
"We expect to begin relocating groups to these new sites by the weekend," Jennifer Pagonis, the UNHCR spokeswoman, was quoted as saying.
She added that several thousand Congolese refugees had also arrived in Rwanda in recent weeks.
"The recent arrivals in Burundi include mainly ethnic Banyamulenge who apparently fled as a precautionary measure because they were afraid that revenge attacks might occur in the wake of last month's brief occupation of Bukavu," UNHCR reported.
UNHCR said it was verifying the 17,000 figure with Burundian local authorities.
It added that other ethnic groups living in the region were also fleeing out of fear of attacks by Banyamulenge fighters or conflicts between insurgents and government forces allied with the Mayi-Mayi militia.
The agency said the Congolese were on the move after fighting broke out on 26 May between dissident and loyal army soldiers in the South Kivu provincial capital of Bukavu. Fresh conflicts have also been reported around Kamanyola and Uvira, also in South Kivu Province.
Loyalist troops re-entered Bukavu on 9 June, after the dissidents withdrew the previous day. Some of the dissidents headed towards Goma, North Kivu Province, and others went towards the border with Rwanda.
The majority of the refugees entering Burundi were living in Rugombo transit centre in the north-western province of Cibitoke, and another 1,500 each were at two other centres in the province.
"There are an additional 25 hangars for shelter at Rugombo transit centre, and UNHCR is setting up another transit centre in Cibitoke that can house 20,000 people," UNHCR said.
It added: "The agency is also preparing a site that used to host Burundian returnees in Songore, Ngozi Province. Several thousand more refugees can be hosted in the existing Basorwe camp in Muyinga Province."
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