Rwanda to relocate Burundian refugees

Rwanda’s government has said it plans to relocate Burundian refugees to other countries after being accused of involvement in “destabilising activities” in its crisis-hit neighbouring country.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement on Friday that her government would immediately begin working with partners in the international community to plan the orderly and safe relocation of Burundian refugees to third countries.

“The refugee exodus is troubling. It also exposes refugees to increased threats from forces at home and compromises lasting political solutions,” Mushikiwabo said.

Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans in April to run for a third term, which he went on to win.

Hundreds of people have been killed and at least 230,000 have fled the country. Rwanda is currently hosting about 75,000 Burundian refugees.

The Burundian government has accused Kigali of training and arming rebels, charges Rwandan President Paul Kagame has vigorously denied.

On Wednesday, the United States accused Rwanda of involvement in “destabilising activities” in Burundi, including the recruitment of refugees for armed attacks against the government in Bujumbura.

Last week, UN experts told the Security Council that Rwanda had recruited and trained refugees from Burundi, including children, who wanted to remove Nkurunziza from power.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said yesterday it had not been informed in advance about Rwanda’s plan.

“Our representative in Rwanda has immediately sought a meeting with the government,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.

Neighbouring nations already host thousands of Burundian refugees in overstretched camps, with Tanzania hosting some 130,000 and Democratic Republic of Congo more than 18,000. Uganda, which borders Rwanda to the north, has 21,000.

It was not clear where Rwanda plans to send the refugees to.

In the statement, Mushikiwabo, the Rwandan foreign minister, pointedly criticised his country’s southern neighbour, saying: “The callous indifference to the well-known root causes of instability in Burundi, and the refugee exodus is troubling.”

Violence continues to flare in Burundi. On Thursday, a grenade blast wounded 26 people in the capital Bujumbura, nine of them seriously, the latest in a string of attacks.

Meanwhile, The first UN convoy carrying aid to civilians fleeing clashes in Sudan’s Darfur has reached a peacekeeping base where up to 23,000 people have taken shelter, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Intense fighting erupted last month between insurgents and troops in Darfur’s isolated Jebel Marra area, a stronghold of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdulwahid Nur, with tens of thousands of civilians thought to have fled.

“A 24-truck convoy with emergency aid arrived late yesterday in Sortoni, North Darfur where 23,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons), 90 percent of whom are women and children are gathered after fleeing the recent violence in the Jebel Marra,” Samantha Newport, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP.

The convoy was carrying food, medical supplies, shelter and other essential supplies for civilians at the Sortoni base, run by the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which deployed to the region in 2007.

“These people have walked miles or travelled by donkey or camel, some of them being forced to flee as soon as hostilities struck their village and so they did not have time to gather belongings or food,” Newport said.

Until the convoy arrived, families who had been able to bring food were sharing it with those who had fled with no possessions, she said. — Aljazeera-AFP.

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