The Government of Rwanda says claims peddled by the Government of Burundi that Rwanda is holding Burundian refugees’ hostage are absurd and do not reflect the truth of what is happening.
This was said by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Dr Vincent Biruta on Wednesday while addressing the media in Kigali on the current affairs in Rwanda and the region.
Reacting to recent comments made by the Burundi’s President Maj. Gen Evariste Ndayishimiye that Rwanda is holding hostage Burundian refugees, Minister Biruta said that the claims are false because Rwanda has expressed the desire to facilitate the repatriation process.
“The numbers we have indicate that Rwanda hosts 71,973 Burundian refugees at the moment, the third-highest number of Burundian refugees hosted by any country. One can only claim that the ones in Rwanda have been held hostage after the refugees in other countries have returned home, which is not true,”
“Before the COVID-19, which led to the closure of borders, it should be noted that at least 200 Burundian refugees would return home. Nobody stopped them. The fact that they are not going home now is because of the border closures but Rwanda has no interest in keeping the refugees,” Minister Biruta said.
Dr Biruta said that Rwanda had an international obligation to welcome refugees where they were in trouble, it never invited them and would have no interest of keeping them. He said that whatever was done was in line with the protocol to protect refugees in peril.
“Until now there hasn’t been any problem. As we speak, tomorrow there is a technical meeting involving all parties, to discuss the modalities of how these refugees can be facilitated to return home even at this time of COVID-19,” he added, pointing out that the process is facilitated by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Burundi denied Nationals right to return
Dr. Biruta said that it is surprising that Burundi would accuse Rwanda of holding hostage the refugees, when the Burundian government has refused to allow its own citizens who were caught in Rwanda by the COVID-19 outbreak the right to return.
“We have about 136 Burundian citizens who had come to Rwanda for different reasons at the time the borders were closed, including those who had come to seek treatment. They requested to return home and they were denied the right to do so,”
“They have been stranded here. The Burundian Embassy in Rwanda approached us and requested us to facilitate their repatriation and we did our part but Burundi refused to welcome them back. Some were known and had been cleared to travel hear for treatment but after that they could not be allowed to return home,” Dr Biruta said.
Dr Biruta said that it is surprising that Bujumbura would accuse Kigali of holding Burundian refugees’ hostage yet they cannot allow back their own citizens.
Dr Biruta also spoke about the recent comments by the Burundian leader that his government is not interested in pursuing friendly ties with a ‘cunning and dishonest neighbour’, pointing out that Rwanda would not force Burundi to work on bettering relations.
“What I can say is that for us we remain ready to work with our neighbours to improve relations. For two countries to co-exist well, there must be the will on both sides. What we learned is that Burundi is not interested in improving relations,” Dr Biruta said.
He said that Rwanda would not go into responding to some of the allegations or attacks directed towards Rwanda, apart from clearing the air on outstanding issues without exchanging words with the Burundian leadership.
According to UNHCR figures, by the end of June 2020, there were more than 430,000 Burundian refugees scattered in the region.
Tanzania hosts the highest number with 164,87, DR Congo hosts 103,690, Rwanda 72,007, Uganda 48,275, Kenya 13,800, Mozambique 7,800, Malawi 8,300, South Africa 9,200 and Zambia is home to 6,000.