The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern for thousands of Rwandans living in crude, makeshift encampments along the Burundian border, desperate to escape retribution from village courts set up to try people suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said its office in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, reported the new influx of Rwandans into Burundi. The asylum seekers say they fled because of fears over the “gacaca” tribunals looking into the Rwandan genocide, but also cited threats and rumours of massacres and revenge attacks as reasons for leaving their country.
The agency’s partners on the ground estimate that some 3,000 to 3,500 new arrivals have come from Rwanda this week, bringing the overall total of asylum seekers in Burundi since early April to 7,000. Most of the latest arrivals are staying at two border crossing points, Busiga and Mwumba.
Last Friday, UNHCR reported that makeshift transit sites along the Burundian border were rapidly emptying as thousands of Rwandan asylum seekers left, either to go home or to hide in neighbouring areas. The agency also voiced concern at the time of reports from some asylum seekers that they had suffered intimidation by the Burundian army to force them to go back to Rwanda.
By the end of last week, all but one of the seven temporary sites along the border were empty. Some 1,500 asylum seekers remained at the border site of Marangara, while around 2,000 remained further inland in two centres that were set up earlier to provide them with better assistance.
“Our concerns for these people remain the same. The sites on which they are staying have no facilities – no shelter, often no access to water, and no latrines. A large proportion of the asylum seekers are women and children,” said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond. “We are still requesting authorization to move the asylum seekers to our inland transit centres – Canzuko and Songore.”
UNHCR had started moving the previous group of asylum seekers to these two camps in mid-April, but the Burundian authorities halted all transfers a week later.