See also:
» 30.10.2009 - Last Burundian refugees repatriated
» 16.10.2009 - HRW calls on Burundi to halt deportation of refugees
» 14.05.2009 - Over 200 political prisoners in Burundi released
» 21.08.2008 - Burundi census invites row
» 22.07.2008 - Hope for Burundi peace
» 26.05.2008 - Burundi's rebels sign truce
» 21.05.2008 - Burundi peace still fragile
» 27.05.2005 - Controversy over Rwandan refugees in Burundi

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Burundi | Rwanda
Human rights | Society

Burundi, Rwanda violate refugee laws

afrol News, 14 June - The governments of Rwanda and Burundi today were massively criticised by the UN for the forced repatriation of 5,000 Rwandan refugees from Burundi. The Burundian government had termed the Rwandan asylum-seekers as "illegal immigrants" in violation of several international treaties and despite the protests of the UN.

Government officials from Burundi and Rwanda this weekend issued a joint statement, saying that the group of recently arriving Rwandans were "illegal immigrants" and as such should be returned to Rwanda. On Sunday and Monday, some 5,000 Rwandan asylum-seekers in Burundi were thus forcedly sent back to Rwanda.

The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, already last month had expressed concern over Burundi's unwillingness to treat these new Rwandan arrivals as refugees. According to the agency, many of those Hutus arriving Burundi were telling credible stories of persecution based on ethnicity in Rwanda. Rwandan and Burundian authorities nevertheless claim these persons were escaping trials, where thousands of Hutus are accused of participating in the 1994 genocide on 900,000 Rwandan Tutsis.

Rwandan asylum-seekers first arrived in Burundi in March, citing fears over traditional local courts, or gacaca tribunals, looking into the 1994 genocide. They also cited threats of intimidation, persecution and rumours of revenge as reasons for leaving home. The refugees built makeshift shelters just inside the border in Burundi.

The UNHCR and international human rights groups have claimed that many of these asylum-seekers seemed to have a real need for protection. In any case, they hold, Burundian authorities were obliged by international law to give each and every asylum-seekers a possibility of having his or her case proven. There had also been hundreds of Rwandan children arriving; too young to have any responsibility for the 1994 genocide.

The UN refugee agency thus was "alarmed" as Burundian officials on Saturday agreed to term the asylum-seekers "illegal immigrants", thus preparing for their deportation. UNHCR warned that the decision to re-label refugees "could well be in contravention of international refugee law" and warned against an involuntary repatriation.

Hearing of the expulsion of 5,000 refugees thus caused anger within the UN today. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this action by Burundian and Rwandan authorities "constitutes a violation of international law." He urged Rwanda and Burundi "to respect international law" by giving due process to the 7,000 Burundian refugees still in Rwanda and 700 Rwandan asylum seekers still in Burundi.

Also the UNHCR protested today. A spokesman of the refugee agency said that the agency could "not consider their return as voluntary and hence it constitutes a violation of the principle of non-refoulement that is enshrined in the 1951 Refugee convention, to which both Burundi and Rwanda are both signatories." UNHCR staff had been denied access to the refugees and were not allowed to oversee the forced repatriation.

The UNHCR spokesman also expressed concern about the fate of some 7,000 Burundian refugees in Rwanda, the spokesman said, since they too were now considered "illegal immigrants" and "we fear they could be returned to their homeland against their will," he said. "We strongly urge Rwanda to refrain from any such initiative," he added.

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