The more than 72,000 Burundian refugees in Rwanda have been given freeway to start going back home beginning August 27.
A tripartite videoconference meeting held Thursday involving Rwandan, Burundi and UN refugees agency officials agreed to begin preparations for the refugees to go home.
The deal comes following days of a fierce propaganda war between Kigali and Bujumbura over the refugees. It all began after a letter surfaced supposedly written and signed by 331 refugees to Burundi’s new leader President Evariste Ndayishimiye asking he facilitates them to repatriate.
The president followed up the said letter with what he said was a written response, telling them Burundi was open. However, in a speech, President Ndayishimiye called Rwanda a “hypocritical country”, accusing Kigali of holding the refugees hostage.
The refugees began pouring into Rwanda, and other regional neighbors in the lead up to a controversial election in 2014. Situation got worse after a failed coup against former leader Pierre Nkurunziza in May 2015.
Currently, the refugees live in the Mahama camp, which is more of a permanent settlement in eastern Rwanda, near Tanzania border. Thousands others have integrated into Rwandan communities all across Rwanda. Many are employed here, others have successful businesses – with the bar industry for example dominated by them before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
There has been no let-up in the information warfare between the two countries going back the past five years. Following the said letter to Ndayishimiye, government media in Rwanda reported that it was fabricated from Bujumbura, and that some of the refugees on the list had said they didn’t know of such actions.
However, early this week, Rwanda took its campaign a step further. Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vincent Biruta said Burundi has been doing everything possible to discourage the refugees from going home.
He said if indeed Rwanda had blocked the refugees, how come those in Tanzania and DR Congo had not gone back.
Tanzania for its part has repeatedly issued ultimatums to the nearly 250,000 on its territory to leave, or be forced out. Hundreds have in the past months been boarding UNHCR trucks to go home.
For those in Rwanda, it remains to be seen how the new agreement is going to be implemented. According to the tripartite deal, UNHCR will provide stations in the Mahama camp for registration to those who want to leave. They will also be facilitated after they make the decision to return home.
The count is now on for the August 27 date when the first batch is expected to cross the border.