Rwanda’s plans to “relocate” Burundian refugees worry UNHCR

MISUNDERSTANDINGS UNACCEPTABLE: Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo

MISUNDERSTANDINGS UNACCEPTABLE: Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concerns over Rwanda’s plans to expel Burundian refugees to other countries in the region.

Following Rwanda’s announcement Friday that it was planning an “orderly and safe relocation of Burundian refugees to third countries,” the UN refugee agency responded saying the move seems to undermine the precedent of refugee protection Rwanda has set over decades.

UNHCR’s Representatives in Rwanda urgently met with the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), Seraphine Mukantabana, who clarified the statement to the effect that Rwanda would continue to respect its international obligations to protect Refugees, would not close its borders, and would not forcibly expel Burundian refugees.
UNHCR has urged the Government to make such clarifications publicly as soon as possible to prevent panic on the part of refugees in Rwanda.

Rwanda’s impending decision was announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo who pointed out that her country has the obligation to protect and care for refugees but experience in the region has shown that the long-term presence of refugees so close to their country of origin carries considerable risks for all involved.

“The callous indifference to the well-known root causes of instability in Burundi and the refugee exodus‎ is troubling,” Mushikiwabo said adding “It also exposes refugees to increased threats from forces at home and compromises lasting political solutions. For Rwanda, the growing risks to our national security from the Burundian impasse and misunderstandings in our foreign relations are unacceptable.”

Rwanda’s measure to move about 70,000 refugees to regional countries comes after the country has faced intense criticism for allegedly training, and arming Burundian refugees and recruiting them into armed groups fighting the Burundian government.

Just this week, two US diplomats appeared before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and stated they had come across credible evidence Rwanda was involved in “destabilizing activities” related to the training and recruiting of Burundian refugees and fueling the Burundian conflict.

“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,” US Special Representative to the Great Lakes Region, Thomas Perriello told US lawmakers.

Both Refugees International, an advocacy group and the UN have released almost similar reports alleging Rwanda has been training Burundian refugees. Rwanda has repeatedly dismissed these reports and allegations.

Rwanda has over 74.000 Burundian refugees and about 48,000 of them are currently living in Mahama camp, while many others live in cities and towns around Rwanda.

Mahama camp has been cited in the aforementioned reports as the recruiting ground for refugees.

The refugee problem has affected bilateral ties between Rwanda and Burundi in the course of the current conflict. The authorities in Burundi have accused Rwanda of training and arming refugees with aim of destabilizing their country, on the other hand, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has labeled the accusation “childish.”