Christians are responding with immediate assistance for more than 1,000 Congolese refugees following a massacre in the small east African country of Burundi last Friday that resulted in the deaths of at least 164 Congolese. The attack also left at least 107 Congolese injured, and a completely leveled and destroyed refugee camp.
"I attended the funeral yesterday. A huge mass grave had been prepared where the coffins were laid," said Luc Picard, Burundi Country Representative of Catholic Relief Services, referring to a burial of more than 150 people in a mass grave outside Gatumba. "Three CRS trucks used for transport of relief items carried the coffins from the sight of the massacre to the burial sight. The site of such a grave was ... out of this world."
Catholic Relief Services, an international humanitarian agency, responded with immediate assistance for more than 1,000 Congolese refugees who took shelter at a nearby school in Gatumba city, roughly three miles from the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). After conducting a humanitarian assessment, CRS began distribution of non-food items including mats, blankets, soap, cooking sets and water cans. CRS distributed similar items to more than 8,500 families of Congolese refugees (roughly 30,000 persons) in the area in June of this year when they crossed the border due to an eruption of violence in Bukavu of the DRC, where insurgent factions of the Congolese army took over the city.
According to CRS, roughly 1,500 refugees were at the Gatumba camp at the time of the attack, which took place at night and with the use of machetes and guns among the mostly women and children of the camp. Gatumba is just about 12 miles from the Burundian capital of Bujumbura and only about 2 miles from the Congolese border.
The refugees, known as the Banyamulenge, share ethnic origin with Rwandan and Burundi Tutsis, and are from the eastern region of the DRC. News reports state that Hutu Forces for National Liberation (FNL) claimed responsibility for the killings.
From January to June 2004, CRS and its local partners have provided assistance to nearly 260,000 Burundians in 10 of the 16 national provinces, helping 51,309 families of internally displaced or returnees and 2,381 individuals (orphans especially). CRS has provided relief and development assistance in Burundi since 1961.