Hundreds of asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo who had been camping in a playground in front of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) offices in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, have been moved to Northern Ngozi province, officials said.
"Starting tomorrow [20 September] no asylum seekers will be camping here," said Didace Nzikoruriho, the officer in charge of refugees in the Burundian ministry of home affairs. "The immigration service agents are present here to ensure that even newcomers get their papers."
Some 300 of the Congolese who were boarding trucks early on 19 September, were being taken to Musasa transit site; while others who follow will be taken to another site in Bujumbura, said Bernard Ntwari, UNHCR information officer.
Carrying their meagre belongings, some of the Congolese said they were happy to be leaving. One of them, Igumba Bine Bikwaya, told IRIN he expected better living conditions in Musasa.
Some of the asylum seekers had camped in the playground for two months. Ntamatungo, a woman in her thirties, who had camped with her two children for 24 days said, "My children will go to school now".
Upon arrival at Musasa, the asylum seekers will receive food, shelter, medical care and protection, confirmed Ntwari.
Nzikoruriho said there were plans to set up a new refugee camp at Giharo in the eastern province of Rutana to host 30,000 refugees. "All the Congolese refugees will be moved there," Nzikoruriho added, saying the camp should be ready in two months.
An initial plan to build another refugee camp at Samvura, in the southern province of Makamba, was abandoned after it was found to be too expensive, he said.
Several hundred Congolese nationals started arriving in Burundi early this year, fleeing violence in the South Kivu region of eastern Congo. The numbers have since gone up. Nzikoruriho said 50 to 100 asylum seekers were now arriving each day.
The asylum seekers, however, complain that they spend many days before being
given papers that would entitle them to assistance. Nzikoruriho said granting asylum was not an easy task.
"We take time to identify the asylum seekers, their children, and particularly the reasons for fleeing their country of origin," he explained.
There were delays in being able to house the refugees at Musasa due to work being carried out to enlarge the camp. The site is currently at capacity with 5,000 residents.