Around a hundred Rwandans have crossed into DR Congo in recent days, saying they are fleeing the country’s Covid-19 vaccination rules, local sources said on Wednesday.
Small groups of Rwandans, travelling by canoe, have landed on the southern edge of Idjwi island in Lake Kivu which straddles the border, Karongo Kalaja, the administrator of Idjwi, told AFP.
“We have already recorded at least 100” arrivals, Kalaja said.
The authorities are interviewing them to find out why they crossed, he added.
Idee Bakalu, head of an association of Idjwi citizens living in Bukavu, the main town in DR Congo’s South Kivu province, said local officials in Ntambuka had recorded 101 arrivals as of Tuesday.
“The Rwandans are saying they are fleeing because of the coronavirus vaccine… we do not know what their intentions are,” he said.
Esther Muratwa, head of the association of civil societies in Idjwi, put their number at 123.
Local teacher Dunia Muhigirwa said that women and children were among the arrivals, and confirmed that the Rwandans said they were “fleeing the vaccine”.
The Rwandans are going through identification procedures in the villages of Lemera and Nyereji, where most have been placed with host families for the time being, he said.
“Their presence here is a source of concern for us, given that the reason why they came to Idjwi isn’t clear,” Muhigirwa added.
Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said in a statement “all eligible Rwandans and residents of Rwanda are encouraged to get fully vaccinated to protect themselves and others from potentially deadly effects of Covid-19”.
“A handful of Rwandans crossed over to neighbouring countries claiming to be against vaccination, mostly for religious reasons. Most have returned or are returning, facilitated by bilateral cooperation, including some who went to Idjwi Island in DRC.”
Rwanda, a country of 13 million people, has enforced some of the strictest anti-Covid containment measures in Africa and implemented a rigorous regime of testing and contact-tracing.
As of mid-December, it had fully vaccinated 4.2 million people — around 60 percent of Rwandans aged 18 and above.
Unlike other countries in the region, it has also started administering vaccine booster shots to eligible adults.
Vaccination is mandatory for using public transport or going to bars and restaurants and public gatherings.
In 1994, Idjwi hosted tens of thousands of Rwandan Hutus who fled to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during the genocide in Rwanda.