Insecurity drives Burundians into Rwanda; Tanzania urges a return home

Thursday August 31 2017

Burundi refugees at the Gashora transit camp in

Burundi refugees at the Gashora transit camp in 2015. PHOTO FILE | NMG 

By The EastAfrican
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About 150 Burundians arrive in Rwandan refugee camps every week, citing insecurity as the reason for flight.

By the end of July, Rwanda had registered 86,359 Burundian refugees in six refugee camps — many of them in Mahama Camp in Kirehe District.

They account for 53 per cent of the of refugees in the country, with over half of them being children, according to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees.

Although the security situation in Burundi seemed to have improved with a drop in political assassinations and widespread violence, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) maintained that conditions are not yet conducive for safe and voluntary return of refugees.

“UN reports show that the human rights situation in Burundi has not improved,” UNHCR Rwanda external relations officer Martina Pomeroy said in an interview.

To its credit, Rwanda has stated its vision under its Global Development Agenda as one that aims at “improving the socio-economic development of Rwandans and those coming into Rwanda – particularly as refugees.”

The country has invested in the welfare of Burundian refugees with over 260 allowed into the university while about 19,000 youth are integrated into Rwanda’s education system.

However, UNHCR Rwanda is struggling to meet basic needs for refugees such as shelter, water and sanitation.

The UN body seeks over $100 million to meet these needs but has raise about 17 per cent of what is required.

“Our partners are facing similar challenges, especially due to the rise of massive displacement in other countries in Eastern Africa, Great Lakes and Horn of Africa which are also demanding of donor resources,” Ms Pomeroy said.

“We appreciate that this year we have continued to receive generous contributions from the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union as well as some supportive private donors, but the needs remain too great and we risk sliding backwards in the achievements we have made particularly in Mahama camp.”

But solving the situation of refugees in Rwanda is not just about money from donors, Pomeroy says.

It is also about a shift in thinking into a durable solution to the refugee crisis globally.

“UNHCR will continue to support the government of Rwanda to ensure that the Burundian refugees are safe and protected during their stay,” she said.

Majority refugees in Rwanda — 74,302 — come from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile, Burundi refugees in Tanzania by end of August when the government and the UNHCR roll out a voluntary repatriation programme.

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk and Tanzania Home Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba met a few weeks ago to discuss protection of asylum seekers and refugees,  including finalising naturalisation for the remaining 1972 Burundi refugees, assisting refugees who wish to voluntarily return to their countries of origin and advocating for resettlement to third countries.

UNHCR spokesperson Terese Ongaro told The EastAfrican that Tanzania had agreed to review its 1998 Refugees Act and the 2003 National Refugee Policy to ensure refugee protection is in line with international law and current realities in a bid to address all the gaps and pursue opportunities to better help the host communities.