The first batch of Congolese refugees who had survived a massacre at a transit center in northwestern Burundi almost three years ago are on their way to the United States to re-settle there. They are among a group of more than 500 Congolese refugees who had been impacted by the massacre. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.
The massacre occurred during the night of August 13, 2004 at a transit center in Gatumba.
The attackers, belonging to several rebel groups, set ablaze shelters housing at least 800 sleeping Congolese refugees. More than 156 mostly women and children were killed and about 106 were wounded, some seriously.
According to Human Rights Watch, a Hutu rebel group called the Forces for National Liberation claimed responsibility for the attack. The victims were mostly members of the Tutsi ethnic group. The rebel group claimed the transit center harbored combatants preparing for a new war on the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Some 550 people who survived the massacre and their families have now been earmarked to re-settle in Denver, Louisville Kentucky, San Francisco and other American cities.
A spokeswoman with the United Nations' refugee agency in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, Catherine-Lune Grayson, explains why.
"We considered that the Gatumba survivors were unlikely to return to their country of origin, the DRC, in the fairly near future for security reasons, and that their integration in Burundi was extremely difficult as well," she said. "So in some ways, those solutions that we would normally prefer were made impossible."
After the attack, some of the survivors moved to a new camp set up in central Burundi, some moved to Bujumbura, and others returned back to DRC.
The refugees are being admitted into the U.S. through a program organized by the American government, the International Organization for Migration, and the U.N. refugee agency.
The first group of 35 left Bujumbura on Sunday. About 100 refugees per week are scheduled to travel to the United States.
U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Grayson says the refugees will face challenges in their new home, but will not be alone in their struggles.
"There are some charities receiving the refugees to help them to integrate in the American society: to help them find a job, receive some training, find an apartment," she said. "They are having apartment[s] that is lent to them for the first six months, but after that they need to find a place to live."
There are an estimated 20,000 Congolese refugees living in Burundi after having escaped violent conflicts in DRC. About half of the refugees live in two refugee camps, while the rest live in the capital and other urban centers.