Rwanda Wants Burundian Refugees Out

Rwanda said it is planning to send the thousands of Burundian refugees to other countries following recent accusations from the US and UN saying Rwanda is aiding in the recruitment of people from camps to fight on behalf of the Burundian opposition.
February 12, 2016, 4:33pm
Photo by Edmund Kagire/Reuters

Burundian refugees who have fled across the border to neighboring Rwanda in the last year as political violence unfolded will no longer be welcome in their host country, according to an announcement from Rwanda's foreign minister on Friday.

Rwanda said it is planning to send the thousands of Burundian refugees to other countries following recent accusations from the United States and United Nations saying the country is aiding in recruiting people from camps to fight on behalf of the Burundian opposition. Hundreds of thousands have fled Burundi since April 2014 when President Pierre Nkurunziza made a controversial decision to run for a third term in office, and in recent months the international community has raised concerns over the looming risk of civil war.

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Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement that Rwanda would immediately begin working with partners in the international community to relocate refugees from aid-dependent Burundi.

"For Rwanda, the growing risks to our national security from the Burundian impasse and misunderstandings in our foreign relations are unacceptable," she said, without elaborating.

Related: UN Panel Says Rwanda Is Training Rebels to Depose Burundi's President

Burundi was plunged into one of its worst crises since coming out of a decade-long civil war in 2005 as a result of Nkurunziza's decision, a move that opponents said was against the constitution. As protests devolved into clashes with police, the situation worsened after the 52-year-old former rebel leader won the election and the violence transitioned into politically motivated killings and alleged rebel movements. More than 400 people have been killed since then.

A confidential report to the United Nations Security Council that emerged last month accuses Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian refugees with the goal of ousting Nkurunziza.The report cites accounts from several rebel fighters, who told monitors the training was done in a forest camp in Rwanda.

Burundi accused Rwanda in December of supporting a rebel group that was recruiting Burundian refugees on Rwandan soil, but Rwandan President Paul Kagame dismissed the allegations as "childish."

Burundi and Rwanda have the same ethnic mix, about 85 percent Hutus and 15 percent Tutsis. The 12-year civil war in Burundi pitted a Tutsi-led army against Hutu rebel groups.

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The US validated these statements at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday. Reports that Rwanda was recruiting Burundian refugees for rebel attacks were credible, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at the meeting. These comments elicited a response from Burundi's Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe.

Related: The African Union Plans a Trip to Burundi After Its Peacekeeping Plan Fails

"For us, we say it's better later than never because we've been telling the Obama administration about this for the last seven or eight months," he told Voice of America. "But of course, in the beginning we were told that we were just trying to divert the attention of the international community on Burundi toward another country. So for us, we want the UN to move beyond simple rhetoric and take action because those are absolute acts that disturb the peaceful existence of states; those are acts that go against United Nations charter."

As Rwanda got tough on refugees, the UN peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic is repatriating three Burundian military officers on suspicion they committed human rights violations during political unrest in their home country, according to an internal document.

A fax dated Feb. 5 sent by the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York and seen by Reuters on Thursday notified the Central African mission, MINUSCA, of the decision to send the officers home.

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"(The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) has raised serious concerns about alleged human rights violations committed by the officers during the violent demonstrations in Burundi," the document stated.

Related: Security Forces Allegedly Buried Bodies in Mass Graves in Burundi

Burundi contributes more than 1,200 soldiers and police to UN peacekeeping missions. It is fairly common for troops to be sent home for alleged abuses committed while serving with a UN mission. MINUSCA has repatriated members of several contingents amid a wave of sexual abuse and rape accusations over the last year. However, the repatriation of troops over allegations of abuses committed in their home countries is extremely rare.

A spokesman with MINUSCA confirmed the three men were being sent home but declined to give details of the allegations against them.

"Assessments have been conducted. Following the assessments, this decision was taken," Vladimir Monteiro said. "The mission is doing everything to ensure that they return to Burundi."