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UNHCR calls for voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees

While the Burundian government wants Burundian refugees living in Rwanda to return home, visiting UNHCR official believes that the refugees’ repatriation should be voluntary according to international principles.

"We have to respect the voluntary aspect of the repatriation of refugees. This is an international principle," said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Turk on Thursday, after visiting a transit site for asylum seekers at Cishemere in Cibitoke province, 40 km west of the Burundian capital Bujumbura.

He was reacting to a Burundian government complaint that Rwanda is not allowing Burundian refugees to return home.

"We want all refugees to come back home. They are mainly in Tanzania, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), in Rwanda and in Uganda. But Rwanda is not allowing Burundian refugees to return home," said Burundian Home Affairs and Civic Education Minister Pascal Barandagiye.

According to him, even refugees voluntarily planning to return home must "hide" themselves to be able to leave the Rwandan territory.

Barandagiye indicated that there is no problem with the other countries hosting Burundian refugees.

He argued that Burundi is in peace and stability, adding that transit sites have been prepared to receive refugees.

While at Cishemere transit site that mainly hosts asylum seekers from the DR Congo, Turk said he was impressed to see how activities are done at Cishemere.

"I am glad to see how interviews with asylum seekers are done here. I also liked a good partnership existing between the Burundian government, the UN Refugee Agency and the Red Cross," said Turk.

Cishemere transit site currently hosts 80 families of DR Congo asylum seekers who fled fighting in eastern DR Congo.

Turk visited Burundi after visiting Rwanda and the DR Congo to eyewitness refugees’ living conditions.

Relations between Burundi and Rwanda have deteriorated after Burundi accused Rwanda of hosting and supporting perpetrators of the May 13, 2015 coup plot against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza accused of bidding a third term in violation of the 2000 Arusha Agreement and the Burundian constitution.

Burundi has suffered turmoil since April 2015 when President Nkurunziza decided to run his controversial third term in violation of the national constitution and the 2000 Arusha Agreement that ended a decade-long civil war.

More than 500 people in Burundi have been killed and the UN Refugee Agency estimates that about 300,000 people fled to neighboring countries mostly Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Uganda since the outbreak of the crisis.


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