Witnesses say fears of the Ebola virus have brought border traffic between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to a virtual standstill. Long lines and lengthy delays at the border crossings have left many traders frustrated, but officials say health checks are necessary to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
Beatrice Irunga, a 35-year old Congolese trader, says no one can cross the border without washing hands and being checked for fever.
The measures are necessary to prevent people from carrying the virus across the border. But trade-wise, Ebola fears have hit hard.
Jemima Ibrahim, a Congolese trader who sells rice and oil in Rwanda, says the long delays at the crossing are costing her time and money.
“The loss is huge,” she said. “We buy goods here in Rwanda. To export them to Congo is becoming very hard.”
Rwandan Claudine Irunga says she owns a shop in Goma, on the Congolese side, but can’t reach it because of the delays.
“I left Goma in the morning,” she said. “My shop is open now, and here they are not allowing us to go regardless of every document you can have. I am so sad. They say the border is open, but just look.”
The Rwandan government estimates that 80,000 people cross between Goma and the Rwandan city of Gisenyi each day.
The government has not said the border is closed. However, it is urging its people not to enter the eastern DRC, where the Ebola virus has killed more than 1,800 people over the past year.
Dr. Diane Gashumba, Rwanda’s Minister of Health, is encouraging Rwandans not to go to DRC, and instead to find other ways to do their business in the country.
This stance goes against advice from the World Health Organization.
Dr. Kasonde Mulenga Mwinga, WHO country director, supports a flow of people to the member country to be able to address the response that is needed there.
The Rwandan and Congolese health ministers met Tuesday to discuss measures to stop the Ebola outbreak from spreading.
Afterward, they said they resolved to enact ways that allow for smoother border crossings while taking “very strong measures to keep the epidemic at bay.”