Fear over Rwanda ex­pul­sion threat

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

KI­GALI — “In Rwanda we’re safe. I don’t see any­where else to go,” says Au­drey, one of thou­sands of Bu­run­dian refugees now liv­ing in Rwanda - but fear­ful af­ter Ki­gali un­ex­pect­edly an­nounced plans to re­lo­cate them to other coun­tries.

The 27-year-old, who was per­son­ally threat­ened for tak­ing part in demon­stra­tions against Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza at home, says she can­not re­turn to Bu­rundi.

And she is equally un­sure of her safety in other coun­tries in the re­gion.

“When we heard the news, we were amazed,” she said. “We did not ex­pect it.”

Bu­rundi has been in tur­moil since Nku­run­z­iza an­nounced plans in April 2015 to run for a third term, which he went on to win.

In less than a year, hun­dreds of peo­ple have been killed and around 230 000 Bu­run­di­ans have fled the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to the UN­HCR, about 75 000 of those have taken refuge in Rwanda.

Like many of her com­pa­tri­ots, Au­drey has been put up by a Rwan­dan fam­ily since flee­ing three months ago and she re­mains too fright­ened to be pho­tographed or clearly iden­ti­fied.

“We talk about it a lot amongst our­selves, es­pe­cially on so­cial me­dia, we won­der where we are go­ing to be able to go,” she said.

Rwanda’s plan to re­lo­cate the refugees comes amid ac­cu­sa­tions that Ki­gali is med­dling in the affairs of its trou­bled neigh­bour.

Bu­rundi has re­peat­edly ac­cused Rwanda of back­ing rebels in­tent on over­throw­ing the govern­ment in Bu­jum­bura. Ki­gali has fiercely de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions.

The United States has also ac- cused Rwanda of in­volve­ment in “desta­bil­is­ing ac­tiv­i­ties” in Bu­rundi.

“There are cred­i­ble re­ports of re­cruit­ment of Bu­run­dian refugees out of camps in Rwanda to par­tic­i­pate in armed at­tacks by Bu­run­dian armed op­po­si­tion against the Bu­run­dian govern­ment,” Thomas Per­riello, US en­voy for the Great Lakes re­gion of Africa, said last week.

UN ex­perts also told the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil a fort­night ago that Rwanda had re­cruited and trained refugees from Bu­rundi, among them chil­dren, who wanted to re­move Bu­rundi’s Nku­run­z­iza from power.

Rwanda’s re­lo­ca­tion an­nounce­ment came out of the blue on Fri­day, even tak­ing the UN refugee agency by sur­prise.

“The govern­ment of Rwanda... will im­me­di­ately be­gin work­ing with part­ners in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to plan the or­derly and safe re­lo­ca­tion of Bu­run­dian refugees to third coun­tries,” the govern­ment said in a state­ment.

Re­act­ing to the plan UN­HCR said it was “con­cerned”, say­ing it “seems to un­der­mine the prece­dent of refugee pro­tec­tion Rwanda has set over decades.”

“A third coun­try? What does that mean?” said Aman­dine, a mother of two chil­dren, one of whom has just started at a pri­mary school in the Rwan­dan cap­i­tal.

Neigh­bour­ing na­tions al­ready host thou­sands of Bu­run­dian refugees in over­stretched camps, with Tan­za­nia host­ing some 130 000 and the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo over 18 000.

Uganda, which bor­ders Rwanda to the north, has 21 000.

“Many refugees have started a new life in Ki­gali,” said San­drine, 26.

“Some started their own busi­ness. Stu­dents who had had to in­ter­rupt their stud­ies when they fled Bu­rundi have re­sumed their education here,” she said.

“We will be vic­tims for a se­cond time,” she said.

Ki­gali has as­sured the UN­HCR that it “would con­tinue to re­spect its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions to pro­tect refugees, would not close its bor­ders, and would not forcibly ex­pel Bu­run­dian refugees”.

The agency, how­ever, urged “the govern­ment to make such clarifications pub­licly as soon as pos­si­ble to pre­vent panic on the part of refugees in Rwanda”.

“We would like to have more in­for­ma­tion. We are in the dark on this,” said Au­drey, who is only half re­as­sured by the UN­HCR state­ments.

Ex­iled Bu­run­dian jour­nal­ist Rev­e­r­ien Bazikanwe said he too was con­cerned.

But he said he un­der­stood Rwanda’s de­ci­sion.

Ki­gali, he said, was re­act­ing to un­founded ac­cu­sa­tions which he ac­cused the Bu­rundi govern­ment of us­ing to “drown out the ma­jor is­sue” of the cri­sis in Bu­rundi.

“It’s in the in­ter­ests of Bu­jum­bura to cloud the real is­sue,” he said.

UN­HCR spokes­woman in Rwanda, Martina Pomeroy, said she feared pos­si­ble ten­sions be­tween the Rwan­dan pop­u­la­tion and the refugees.

Most of the refugees are “liv­ing in fam­i­lies or the com­mu­nity where they have been de­pen­dent on the gen­eros­ity and good­will of Rwan­dans host­ing them”, she said.

“So what can hap­pen if the pop­u­la­tion thinks that refugees have be­come un­de­sir­able for the govern­ment?” she added. — AFP

Rwan­dans fear per­se­cu­tion should they re­turn home.

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