Rwanda denies holding Burundian refugees hostage

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Rwanda is ready to facilitate repatriation of  Burundian refugees to their country, Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation Vincent Biruta said Wednesday, after being accused of holding them hostage.

Biruta’s remarks were in reaction to comments reportedly made on Aug. 6 by Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who said “some neighboring countries are hosting Burundian refugees hostage.”

Ndayishimiye’s comments followed a letter purportedly written by a group of Burundian refugees at Mahama camp, in eastern Rwanda, in which they asked their government to engage the Rwandan government to facilitate their repatriation.

“The remarks made by the Burundi president are shocking. Rwanda has no interest in holding Burundian refugees hostage,” Biruta said while addressing a press conference in Rwandan capital Kigali.

Previously, Burundi has turned back its own people who had visited Rwanda for various reasons; it is therefore shocking to say that Rwanda is holding other Burundians hostage, he added.

He said before COVID-19 lockdown in a month some 200 Burundian refugees could voluntarily repatriate but this was stopped due to coronavirus.

Biruta also said Rwanda is ready to strengthen relations with other countries including those in the region.

UN refugee agency UNHCR figures show that by the end of June 2020, there were more than 430,000 Burundian refugees in different camps in the region.

Rwanda hosts 72,007, Tanzania 164,87, the DR Congo hosts 103,690, Uganda 48,275, Kenya 13,800, Mozambique 7,800, Malawi 8,300, South Africa 9,200 and Zambia 6,000.

On Aug.3 Rwanda’s Ministry of Emergency Management in a statement said that the government was ready to facilitate safe return of refugees who want to voluntarily repatriate, in collaboration with the UNHCR.

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