Rwanda told to stop recruiting and training Burundian refugees

Burundian refugees arriving in Rwanda.

Burundian refugees arriving in Rwanda.

The latest report by Refugees International, a global refugee advocacy organisation has warned Rwanda to stop recruiting and training Burundian refugees into armed groups intending to launch attacks against the Burundian government.

The stern call follows the report’s findings that Rwanda is actively and aggressively recruiting and training Burundian refugees and sending them back to Burundi via the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The damning report titled Asylum Betrayed: Recruitment of Burundian Refugees in Rwanda released this Monday pins Rwanda on the issue recommending Burundi’s neighbour to the north halt recruiting and training activities  involving Burundian refugees with immediate effect.

According to the report, Rwanda must “ensure that all efforts to recruit Burundian refugees into armed groups – whether on or emanating from Rwandan territory, and whether committed by Burundian or Rwandan nationals – cease immediately.”

Authors of the scathing report say Rwanda has been recruiting the refugees in Mahama camp since May 2015, and that refugees have complained to humanitarian agencies operating in the country that the recruitment was systematic. Refugees also say recruitment is sanctioned and facilitated by Rwanda’s security and military officials, and Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) personnel.

“Multiple refugees interviewed said that Rwandan police officers were present during some recruitment meetings,” Refugees International report reads in part.

The report also is calling on the Rwandan authorities to “affirm publicly that the recruitment of refugees into non-state armed groups on its territory is a violation of international and Rwandan law.”

These finds come weeks after the Burundian government officially accused Rwanda of training and arming refugees with the aim of attacking their homeland.

“We also have extensive information about recruitments in refugee camps, especially in Mahama refugee camp, where refugees are taken for military training, and some of the trainers are Rwandans,” Alain Nyamitwe, Burundi’s Foreign Minister told BBC in October adding also that Rwanda was hosting the leader of the May 13 failed coup General Godefroid Niyombare.

This July, the Burundian Military announced it had killed more than 30 rebels who were part of a group of armed men that had allegedly crossed from Rwanda and engaged the security forces in a fire fight.

Eye-witness residents in the area reported seeing an armed group from Rwanda estimated between 300-400 men in military uniform infiltrating into Burundi-Rwanda border areas of Kabarole and Bukinanyana.

The attack prompted heavy fighting between the group and the army in both areas, after the two-day fight, the Burundian military paraded the dead and captured combatants, and dozens of ammunition and weapons.

Rwanda has however, repeatedly dismissed allegations it was fuelling the conflict in its southern neighbour with Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo telling reporters in October that “we are not in the logic of exchanging accusations and denials.”

At that time, Minister Mushikiwabo went on to say that “Burundi’s problem is not Rwanda, Burundi’s problem is Burundi.”

Rwanda, like other regional countries is host to tens of thousands of Burundian refugees who have fled the conflict that started in April with President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to pursue the third term, and Refugee International’s report warns recruitment in the camps puts them in danger as the Burundian military might chose to target the ‘recruitment centres.’

Monday’s report states Rwanda’s “unlawful” actions  are used by Burundi’s police and the military as a pretext to harass, torture and persecute would be refugees seeking to escape the ongoing violence in Burundi as numerous media reports have indicated.

Last week Burundi’s capital witnessed the deadliest violence since the conflict started in April as nearly 90 people were killed in violence across Bujumbura. Graphic images of dead bodies riddled with bullets scattered on the streets of Bujumbura have drawn widespread outrage and condemnation on social media.