August 4, 2020

Rwanda Backs “Voluntary Repatriation” of Burundian Refugees But Doesn’t Mention Them


With permanent structures unlike other refugee camps, the Mahama camp for Burundians in eastern Rwanda, was put in place for the long term

Government of Rwanda issued a statement late Monday evening in reaction to viral letter by Burundian refugees seeking to return home – after more than five years in Rwanda.

Earlier in the day, news surfaced of a letter written by a group of Burundian refugees in Rwanda, to their President Evariste Ndayishimiye asking him to facilitate them to return home. They want him to engage with Rwanda and UN refugees agency UNHCR to allow them repatriate.

It was the first such public demand by the refugees in Rwanda to go home. For years, the situation in Burundi has been reported to be so dangerous, that Tanzania for its part announced those on its territory will be forced out if the dont return voluntarily.

In their Letter, written July 26, the Burundians say they no longer consider alarmist media campaign on Burundi, instead saying they are convinced their country is peaceful.

For the government of Rwanda, through the Emergencies Ministry it issued a short statement late Monday night on the Burundi refugees. However, the statement doesn’t mention the Burundians themselves.

“Rwanda reaffirms the principle of voluntary repatriation as a durable solution for refugees, in accordance with international and Rwandan law.”

“Rwanda reiterates its commitment to the protection of refugees on its territory, and stands ready to facilitate the safe and dignified return of those refugees who choose to repatriate, in collaboration with UNHCR and relevant governments.”

Numbering 324, all from the Mahama refugee camp in Kirehe district, near the Tanzania border, it has emerged that none of the current camp leaders signed on the letter. It shows the divisions among the Burundians about Rwanda and their home country.

ALSO READ: Study Finds Burundian Refugees In Rwanda More Radicalised Than When They Fled

It is the first such action since 2014, when the nearly 80,000 refugees in Rwanda, began arriving. In total, more than 420,000 Burundian refugees are in neighboring countries.

Tanzania has asked those on its territory to go home, and threatened to forcefully push them out. Tanzania, since election of current President in June, says Burundi is safe to return to.

Indeed, the group in Rwanda which wrote to the Burundian leader, seem to agree with the Tanzania position. In their lengthy letter, written in French, the refugees say despite alarmist media campaign, Burundi is peaceful and they want to go home.

Last week, Burundi President Ndayishimiye convened a high-level government retreat, and top on the agenda was working out urgent plan to repatriate all refugees.

According to UNHCR, Burundian refugees are as follows: Tanzania (164,873), DR Congo (103,690), Rwanda (72,007), Uganda (48,275), Kenya (13,800), Mozambique (7,800), Malawi (8,300), South Africa (9,200) and Zambia (6,000).

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