At total of 1,084 Burundian refugees today early morning boarded buses in Rwanda and Tanzania to return home.
In Rwanda, 511 Burundian left the Mahama refugee camp in eastern Rwanda at 6am and a few hours later crossed back home via the Nemba border. This is the third batch of Burundian returnees in the past weeks.
Also today morning, 573 refugees left camp in Kigoma, Tanzania to return home.
Tanzania has given ultimatum to Burundian refugees to either leave voluntarily, or will be forced out in what government there says Burundian have made it a “habit to run away from their country even when there is no reason.”
Last week, Burundi’s new President Evariste Ndayishimiye was in Tanzania for a widely publicized state visit, the first foreign trip.
As for Rwanda and Burundi, since April 2015, the presidents of both countries have never met in the same room. It followed failed coup which Burundi openly accuses Rwanda of orchestrating.
Last month, the two opened direct talks at level of military intelligence chiefs. However, President Ndayishimiye has been more pointed in his attacks on Rwanda, accusing Kigali of “hypocrisy” and holding refugees “hostage”. Rwanda has been largely on the defensive.
As of mid 2020, according to UN agency 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).
Meanwhile, today also, citizens of both countries stranded on either side due to COVID-19, were also exchanged. More than 80 Burundians crossed back home, as more than 50 Rwandans also returned via the same Nemba border.
These returnees were in either country for different reasons including business, medical care and pleasure before both countries closed their borders when the pandemic struck.
While Rwanda has opened the airspace but kept entire ground border closed, Burundi has yet to open both airspace and land.