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Was the Burundian Government Behind the ‘Refugee Letter’?

by Edmund Kagire
12:21 am

President Ndayishimiye introduces the new Governor of Kirundo Province Albert Hatungimana on Thursday last week.

A recent letter written by Burundian refugees, addressed to the Burundian leader Maj. Gen Evariste Ndayishimiye, petitioning his government to engage the Rwandan government to facilitate their return, could have been engineered by the Government of Burundi.

Reliable sources have revealed to KT Press that the letter, which was dated July 26, signed by 331 refugees, which was followed by pronouncements by the Burundian leader, termed as ‘provocative’, could have actually originated from Bujumbura.

Further details indicate that the 331 signatories contain names of dead people, refugees who have already returned home through unofficial arrangements and others who found their names on the list but did not actually sign the petition.

“This is a well-orchestrated scheme which started in Bujumbura, with a sole aim of tainting the Government of Rwanda. The petition was planned by Burundian security officials and anti-Rwandan elements, to create a scenario that Rwanda was holding the refugees against their will,” the source privy to the development told KT Press.

“It was a well-planned move. The refugees had a briefing and all the actions that followed the letter were all planned beforehand. From the Police Spokesperson’s comments to the President’s speech in Kirundo Province, the plan was to create an impression that the Rwandan government was blocking the repatriation of refugees,” the source in Bujumbura said on condition of anonymity.

In an inflammatory speech on Thursday 6, in Busoni, Kirundo Province, which borders Rwanda, President Ndayishimiye ‘acknowledged receiving the letter’ from refugees in Mahama Camp, in Rwanda’s Eastern Province and said that they are aware that some neighbouring countries hosting refugees are holding them hostage.

“Call your relatives, tell them to return home,” he told residents of the province, adding “We know very well that most of them are suffering and these countries are refusing them the right to return home,”

“If any of the countries stops you from returning home -because we see that some of these countries are holding you hostage, just get up and move, nobody will stop you from enjoying your right to return home. We are ready to receive you,” President Ndayishimiye said.

“They are treating you as hostages, as prisoners. That country should release you,” the Burundian leader added, in a video which was shared by Ntare Rushatsi House on Twitter, directly referring to the letter from Mahama Camp.

His comments came after Rwanda’s Ministry of Emergency Management has issued a statement saying that the Government of Rwanda was ready to facilitate refugees who want to voluntarily repatriate, a position which was reinforced by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UN refugee agency said it was ready to support the process if the two countries agree on the repatriation process.

In a sequence of events, on August 8, the Burundian Government Spokesperson Prosper Ntahorwamiye issued a statement dubbed as ‘arrogant’, making strong allegations, including claims that some of the refugees who signed the petition were threatened.

Mahama Refugee Camp in Kirehe District hosts about 60,000 Burundian refugees

In the statement, Ntahorwamiye, who is also the government secretary general, said on August 5, 2020, that five of the refugees who signed the letter reported threats by acclaimed activist Barankitse Marguerite, who is also a refugee and serves as the head of “Maison Shalom”, a Non-Profit Organization which supports refugees.

Still going after Refugees

Barankitse, commonly known as Maggie, is a globally acclaimed activist who is remembered for vehemently opposing former President Pierre Nkurunziza’s move to seek a third term in 2015, a manoeuvre which plunged the country into one of its worst political crises.

Barankitse and other leading figures had to flee the country along with close to half a million others as violence gripped Burundi. Key opposition figures, activists and independent Journalists were targeted.

In his speech, the Burundian leader blamed the ‘neighbouring country’ for not handing over ‘the misbehaving children’ so that they can be punished, openly proclaiming that the government would still be interested in pursuing those it considers enemies.

Analysts say that Ndayishimiye’s comment indicate that the current Burundian government is still hell bent on pursuing all key figures who opposed President Nkurunziza’s continued rule, despite his pronouncements during his swearing-in earlier in June that his government was looking to turn a new page and welcome back all its citizens who fled in 2015 because peace returned.

One of the prominent exiled figures, Journalist Bob Rugurika, the Director of Radio Publique Africaine – RPA (African Public Radio), a Burundian private radio station which widely covered human rights violations by government forces in 2015, says that Ndayishimiye’s regime is still keen on going after those it perceives as its enemies.

“One can tell from the rhetoric, nothing much has changed. The mentality is still the same, the politics of hate have continued and they remain keen on eliminating anyone they consider an enemy. They have continued attacking neighbours relentlessly,”

“Rwanda has handled itself in a manner worth applauding, by refusing to play into Bujumbura’s shenanigans. This goes to show political and diplomatic maturity. It is high time that people figured out that the Burundian government is the provocateur yet at the same time it plays the victim,” Rugurika told KT Press in a phone interview.

Rugurika says that some of the comments and actions of Burundian leaders should be taken seriously by Rwanda and the International community, calling on the UNHCR to closely follow the issues of refugees to ensure that they are not used by the Burundian government in its schemes, which are in total violation of international conventions that protect refugees.

The Government of Rwanda is yet to directly address the recent comments by Burundian officials but the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Dr Vincent Biruta is set to address a press conference on Wednesday, in which Burundi is likely to feature prominently.

President Paul Kagame recently said that Rwanda is willing to hold talks with the Burundian government in a bid to restore relations which have been broken since 2015 but President Ndayishimiye said that his government is not interested in pursuing friendship with a ‘dishonest’ neighbour.

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 home to 6,000.

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