We can't kick out helpless Burundians: Mushikiwabo

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Minister Mushikiwabo presents Rwanda's foreign policy to the senators as Senator Michel Rugema, senate's president of the foreign affairs, cooperation and security committee listens. (Doreen Umutesi)

The Government will continue to house and protect Burundian refugees who have fled political instability in their homeland and will not be swayed by unfounded accusations from international actors with vested interests, Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo has said.

The minister, who was yesterday updating the Senate on the country’s foreign policy, said Rwanda was abiding by international obligations by accommodating the refugees and ensuring their safety until peace is restored in the neigbouring country to allow their repatriation.

The Senatorial Committee in charge of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security had invited the minister to explain the country’s current status in international diplomacy, the country’s peacekeeping missions across the world and the latest regional security outlook.

Reacting on regional trending security issues, Mushikiwabo did not spare the glaring issues of Burundi Refugees and the spilling effects of bad politics and insecurity stemming from both Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Senate President Bernard Makuza (R) officiates senate proceedings as Senate Vice president Jeanne d'Arc Gakuba and Minister Mushikiwabo listen.

The minister stressed that Rwanda was abiding by international obligations by accommodating the refugees and ensuring their safety until peace is restored to allow repatriation.

“The problem is solely for Burundians. The political disputes are between citizens of Burundi, but we are not going to kick out Burundians fleeing the country because they are not friends with their government,” she said.

“Otherwise reports and accusations will keep coming, and we have to prepare ourselves, these are things we should expect. It’s just a question of managing them,” she said alluding to the recent UN report accusing Rwanda of recruiting rebel fighters in refugee camps.

So far, Rwanda is home to at least 75,000 refugees from Burundi camped in 7 sites whose influx continues but in smaller numbers compared to the previous exodus.

Mushikiwabo stressed that the refugee issue in neighbouring countries was political in nature rather than being humanitarian.

“We need to be mature about issues of refugees, wherever there are refugees near their homeland, there is always a problem, it’s the case in any refugee situation that we know today,” she said referring to the situation in Syria and Burundian refugees in Tanzania.

She told lawmakers that the upcoming East African Community Heads of State Summit scheduled for February 29 in Tanzania is expected to discuss the crisis.

Foreign Policy status

In her brief statement on the status of Rwanda’s diplomacy, the Foreign Affairs minister said current progress was positive and responded to the core visions aimed at promoting peace, security and stability; wealth creations through business opportunities; sustainable cooperation and promotion of Rwanda’s core values.

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Senators follow the foreign policy being presented by Minister Mushikiwabo. (Photos by Doreen Umutesi)

Mushikiwabo told Senators that the country’s diplomatic policy is fundamentally oriented towards its citizen’ interests, focuses on sustainable cooperation with other countries while fostering Rwanda’s essential values that has fashioned the country over the past 20 years.

“We need to constantly adjust our policy and guide our interests with an unpredictable world in order not to be left behind,” she said.

According to her, the country is among the best performing in terms of global peacekeeping missions from which 44,883 soldiers and 3,994 police officers were deployed in 14 contingent missions across the world since 2004.

“Since 2004 Rwanda Defense Force started to contribute in global peacekeeping missions, where we started in Sudan as the first African contingent in that country. It gave our country a positive image,” she added.

Quoting President Paul Kagame on the importance of peace keeping mission, Mushikiwabo said, “When lives are at stake, nothing matters other than saving them. Protection of civilians must be the central purpose of peace keeping. Training, equipping and promptly getting peace keeping forces on the ground, is the essence of timely and effective peace keeping operations and that is how it can be realized”.

The minister added that despite remarkable progress Rwanda’s diplomacy, was yet to completely eradicate effects of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi whose ideology is still propagated by many individuals.

According to Senator Mike Rugema, chairperson of the committee, the consultative meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs was in line with parliamentary oversight programs.

“Many of us need to be kept abreast with foreign diplomacy in a bid to support the government’s policies and strategies and be able to contribute in international cooperation,” he said.

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