Mahama (Rwanda): uncertain future for Burundian refugees

Mahama (Rwanda): uncertain future for Burundian refugees

Several official and unofficial messages call on Burundian refugees from the Mahama camp in Rwanda to return “voluntarily” to their homes. Refugees fear their future is uncertain as they boubt restrictive measures to force them to return, as it is happening in Tanzania. The Rwandan authorities calm down. INFO SOS Médias Burundi

Warning signs are worrying Burundian refugees at the Mahama camp located in the east of the country, very close to the Tanzanian border.

“During the last two weeks, we have no longer been given fuel gas cylinders and filling them is a headache. The food ration is once again reduced. The climate is not good when you talk to UNHCR officials. Clearly they are hiding something. An official from the ministry in charge of refugees, MINEMA, has also whispered to some of us that the repatriation program must be stepped up and that binding measures must be taken,” explain refugees, including community leaders.

Last September, the UNHCR and MINEMA proposed to the executive committee of the refugees in this camp to join a so-called “go and see” commission, which should go to Burundi to “assess the security and human rights situation to finally return to the camp and educate their compatriots to return voluntarily or not”.

The proposal was quickly brushed aside by those concerned. And the members of the executive committee of the Burundian refugees were categorical.

“We know what is happening in Burundi, no need to go there. And then, our security would not be assured, even worse who will go around Burundi with the agents who made him flee? Finally, the commission is not justified because we are aware every day of targeted killings, human rights violations and enforced disappearances reported in our country,” they explained.

For the moment, these Burundians believe that a new strategy has been adopted

“We know that if UNHCR and MINEMA want something, they will get it eventually. Starving ourselves is one of the best methods that we will not resist. Without food it is clear that we will opt for the return”, regret refugees who confided in SOS Médias Burundi.

Otherwise, the other way would be to find “at all costs” members of the famous “go and see” commission frowned upon by refugees, especially in the Mahama camp.

“People who would participate in the commission claiming to represent us will not lack here in Kigali. There are people here who collaborate in secret with the government of Burundi and so they will probably agree with that. This is to say that our future is really uncertain here, ”they say.

Opening of borders, major threat…

Since Burundi opened its borders with Rwanda at the end of September, there has been concern at the Mahama camp.

“Since diplomatic relations between Kigali and Gitega are progressing rapidly, it is certain that we will be sacrificed on the altar of high-level interests. The first and important request from Burundi is that we return and that our camp, considered a danger for Gitega, be closed. That Kigali resists, it is an easy equation to solve. And then, security may be threatened given the infiltrations that could be there”, react community leaders in Mahama.

The UNHCR does not respond directly to this, but nevertheless recalls that in the Mahama camp, the refugees no longer have any enthusiasm for “massive and voluntary repatriation”.

“At the start of the exercise in August 2020 and in 2021, we had two convoys every week with more than 300 refugees in each caravan. But for the moment, we only have one convoy of less than 150 people per week and sometimes we organize convoys once every two weeks,” explained a UNHCR official.

This is why an analysis of this situation is essential, indicated the UNHCR and MINEMA agents in this camp which currently houses nearly 40,000 Burundians.

Officially, Kigali calms down

For those who do not want to return or who do not feel safe in Burundi, you will always be protected and at the same time, we will not close the door for asylum applications even if the procedures are currently restructured “, indicated the permanent secretary of MINEMA.

According to the UNHCR, Rwanda is home to more than 48,000 Burundian refugees, including more than 39,000 settled in the Mahama camp. The Burundian authorities have always wanted to obtain the closure of this camp which they consider so far as one of the large networks of places of recruitment of the armed groups which fight the Burundian government, especially from the province of South Kivu, in the east of the DRC where the Burundian army has already sent two contingents since mid-August this year, officially.

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