Burundi refugees refuse biometric registration in DR Congo

More than 2,000 refugees say the exercise would violate their religion.

Burundi refugees register in order to receive food rations at a camp in Rwanda. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

IN SUMMARY

  • More than 2,000 refugees say the exercise would violate their religion.
  • They fled to DRC accusing the Burundian police of religious persecution.
  • Guidelines in DR Congo mandate that refugees register on a biometric database that includes fingerprints and iris scans.

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More than 2,000 Burundian refugees living in a transit camp in Democratic Republic of Congo are resisting plans to register them on a biometric database, claiming it would violate their religion.

They belong to an obscure Catholic sect that follows a female prophet called Zebiya and claim to have fled their homeland due to religious persecution.

"2,167 refugees are resisting the identification scheme despite several efforts" by refugee agencies, including the UN, local NGO worker Augustin Bulimuntu told AFP in the South Kivu region which borders Burundi.

Bulimuntu said guidelines in DR Congo mandate that refugees register on a biometric database that includes fingerprints and iris scans.

Most of those currently housed at the camp in the border town of Kamanyola are followers of Zebiya who claims to have had several visions of the Virgin Mary in north Burundi.

They fled there with the prophetess in 2015, accusing the Burundian police of religious persecution.

"We refused this biometric registration because our faith forbids it," group spokesman Dionise Nyandwi told AFP, without explaining why.

In September, at least 36 Burundian refugees were killed by Congolese soldiers during a protest at Kamanyola camp which is administered by the UN's mission in DR Congo.

Most of them were members of the Zebiya, witnesses told AFP.

At the time, Kinshasa insisted it was dealing with an "armed group" which had infiltrated the refugees.

In 2013, nearly 200 Zebiya were jailed for five years in Burundi for "civil disobedience" but they claim to have targeted due to their beliefs.

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