Over 150 dead and 106 wounded after attack on Congolese refugee camp in Burundi
16 August 2004
On Friday, August 13 2004, the refugee camp in Gatumba, at the border between Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was attacked by a military group. The attack left between 150 and 160 dead and 105 wounded. On Saturday morning, a number of wounded were transferred to local medical facilities, where MSF staff are regularly checking on their medical progress. MSF is also taking care of 23 wounded in the MSF center for war wounded in Bujumbura, and has operated on eight severely wounded victims. "I had never seen such a scene before," explains Véronique Parque, a head of mission for MSF in Burundi, who arrived in the camp a few hours after the attack on Saturday morning. "Half of the buildings had been burned down. One could see bodies still burning. It was an extremely distressing situation." The camp is situated in Gatumba, Bujumbura Rural province, some 20 kilometers west from the capital city of Burundi, Bujumbura, and four kilometers from the DRC. At the time of the attack, there were about 870 people present in the camp. These refugees are mainly Banyamulenge who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after the wave of violence that took place in the region of Bukavu last June. At around 10 pm (local time), the attackers, apparently dressed in uniforms, surrounded the accommodation buildings where the refugees were staying. They set fire to half of the buildings, while most people, men, women and children, were asleep. In other buildings, refugees were killed, mainly by gun shot, but also through hand grenade explosions, or machetes. Together with a team from the ICRC, MSF staff wrapped up the burnt bodies of the victims in mortuary bags. MSF is also providing psychological support with psychologists from the MSF center for war wounded and the health center for women based in Bujumbura. A team of psychologists from MSF and other organizations is permanently present in a school to take care of refugees with psychological trauma. "We do not know the identity of the perpetrators of the massacre," says Luc Nicolas, MSF Operational Coordinator for the Great Lakes. "But the attack was evidently targeted." Prior to the attack on the refugees, a Burundese army camp, situated some 800 meters away from the refugee camp, was also attacked. MSF had not been working permanently in the camp of Gatumba, since access to medical care is possible in the nearby capital city.