Bukavu – More than 100 Rwandans who said they had fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo because of their country’s Covid vaccine rules have returned home, a local Congolese official said on Thursday.
“All the Rwandans staying illegally” on Idjwi island in Lake Kivu, which straddles the border, “were taken back to their country this morning,” an island official, Roger Ntambuka, told AFP by telephone.
He said the 101 Rwandans included men, women and children who left Rwanda aboard a “big private boat.”
“They were against being repatriated but we negotiated with them all day yesterday. We forced them to get onboad,” Ntambuka added.
The Rwandans said they left Rwanda because they opposed vaccination regulations, local sources said. Immunisation is mandatory in Rwanda for using public transport, frequenting bars and restaurants or attend public events.
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Some residents of the island said they were worried by the influx.
The Rwandan government said Wednesday that “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”, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Spokeswoman Yolande Makolo added in a statement: “These Rwandans will be reassured… and informed of the benefits of vaccination.”
Rwanda, a country of 13 million people that has reported 1 391 deaths since the start of the pandemic, 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% of Rwandans aged 18 and above.
Unlike other countries in the region, it has also started administering vaccine booster shots to eligible adults.
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