Around 100 Rwandans have arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent days claiming to be fleeing the Covid-19 vaccination, which is often mandatory in their country.
They came in small groups by canoe to the south of the island of Idjwi, located on Lake Kivu, which borders Rwanda and the DRC, where the authorities are nevertheless trying to formally identify their profile and the reasons for their arrival.
"We have already registered at least 100 of these people," says Karongo Kalaja, administrator of Idjwi territory. "They are arriving but so far we don't know why they are fleeing their country," he added.
"101 of these people were counted on Tuesday by the chiefdom (administrative entity) of Ntambuka," said Idée Bakalu, honorary president of the mutuality of Idjwi nationals living in Bukavu, capital of the Congolese province of South Kivu. Esther Muratwa, president of the civil society of Idjwi, put their number at 123.
These Rwandans say they are "fleeing the coronavirus vaccine", but "we don't know what their intentions are", said Idée Bakalu, adding that the chiefdom authorities had taken "steps to bring these people home".
According to Dunia Muhigirwa, a teacher in Idjwi, these Rwandans, including women and children, say they are "fleeing the vaccine" against Covid-19. They are being identified in the villages of Lemera and Nyereji where, according to the teacher, "the majority are living for the moment with host families". He added: "Their presence worries us as it is not clear why they are in Idjwi.
In Rwanda, vaccination against Covid-19 is compulsory on public transport, in bars and restaurants, and at conferences and meetings.
Hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutus fled to eastern DRC after the 1994 Tutsi genocide. Some 40,000 of them came to the island of Idjwi, but it has never been plagued by the violence of armed groups that have since plagued the provinces of South and North Kivu.