Nearly 500 Burundian refugees who fled political violence in their home country to Rwanda have Thursday been voluntarily repatriated after 5 years of living in Mahama camp in Kirehe district, Eastern province.
In a statement issued Thursday morning the Ministry in charge of Disaster Management said the repatriation was facilitated by the government of Rwanda in collaboration with Government of Burundi and United Nations High Commission for Refugees
“This is the first phase of the organized voluntary repatriation process. The Government of Rwanda will continue to facilitate similar operations as registration of refugees willing to return home continues across the country. So far, UNHCR has registered 1,800 requests,” reads part of the statement.
“5,922 refugees had already voluntarily gone back to Burundi, returning their refugee status documents at Rwandan border posts.”
According UNCHR spokesperson Elise Villechalane only 471 of 1800 who requested have been repatriated because the Burundi government agency tasked with resettling them once they have arrived lacks capacity to handle big numbers.
“We shall continue to register all those who wish to go home but repartition will be in fazes due to unavoidable circumstances on Burundi’s side,” she said.
Emmanuel Bizimana one of the refuges repatriated back on Wednesday evening said he believed the situation in his country has improved and it was better for him and his family to go back home.
“Our president asked us to come back home, he assured us we would be safe. Since the one we fled from is no longer in power and died we believe there will be no threat on us,” told local media.
As per the Rwanda’s measures in the fight against COVID-19 spread the refuges were tested for corona virus before departure
The repatriation follows last month’s petition which was signed by over 330 Burundian refugees in Mahama camp appealing to Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye for a dignified and lawful return to their home country.
President Ndayishimiye added weight to their petition by accusing Rwanda of holding the refugees hostage.
According to the Government of Rwanda a close to 72,000 Burundian refugees are have been hosted in the country from 2015 until March 2020, when Rwanda closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The refugees fled their country in 2015 following political violence triggered by after former president Pierre Nkurunziza decision to seek a third term which his opponents was against the constitution.
The announcement sparked protests by those opposed to Nkurunziza seeking a third term in office. The protests quickly turned violet leading thousands to flee the country and over 1000 killed security forces and ruling party militias.
President Nkurunziza would shock the world last year when he said he would not seek re lection even after he had charged the constitution to allow him stay in power up to 2034.
In June Nkurunziza died of heart attack and was replaced by Gen Everisto Ndayishimiye who had won the May elections.