Over 330 Burundian refugees settled at Mahama Camp in Rwanda, have appealed for a dignified and lawful return to their home country, in a petition to the Burundian President, Evariste Ndayishimiye.
They also copied the Government of Rwanda (the Ministry of Emergency Management – MINEMA), and the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR).
The New Times understands that the petition drawn up on July 26, 2020, was signed by five Burundian refugees representing the 331 refugees who support it.
“We wish for bilateral talks between Burundi and Rwanda in the presence of UNHCR so that we gain our rights and dignity and return home,” the petition reads in part.
Emmanuel Bizimana, one of the co-signatories to the petition, told The New Times that they fleed because of the political crisis and insecurity stemming mainly from former Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid to contest for a controversial third term.
"Today, the political crisis has been solved. First, there is new leadership for Burundi that resulted from the election. Second, being refugees does not mean we are unable to get information. We are informed that the situation has changed since we left the country [in 2015], and there is rule of law," he said.
"Therefore, we want to return home and get our rights as other Burundian citizens," he said.
He said that those who signed the petition are Burundian refugees who voluntarily want to go back home, in compliance with the legislation.
For the refugees who might not be willing to return home because they think there are underlying factors for that, it is their right to stay in the camp, Bizimana added.
However, in their petition, the refugees said in the petition that there are politicians and media that are carrying out a campaign seeking to discourage their return as they argue that the issue that made them free their country still exists.
Celeus Hatungimana, another Burundian refugee who endorsed the petition said that it is their right to be repatriated to their country, adding that apart from the people included in the petition, there are others who want to go back home.
“First, the return of refuge to his/her country is their right. Second, there is always a reason why refugees flee. When they realise that the reason for fleeing is over, they can go back to their country," he said.
He said that the controversial third term that made them flee caused havoc in 2015 – including killing some people and injuring others.
"Some of us were worried that we might lose our lives in that (insecurity). So, we decided to flee. Now, it is no longer a problem," he said
The New Times was not able to get a comment from MINEMA and UNHCR by press time.
What the law provides
Article 17 of the law relating to refugees, which was enacted in 2014, stipulates six provisions for the cessation of refugee status. They include that refugee status shall cease for any person who has voluntarily re-availed him/herself of the protection of the country of his/her nationality.
Data from UNHCR show that Rwanda is hosting around 77,000 refugees from DRC, and 71,000 refugees from Burundi amongst others, in camps and urban settings.
According to UNHCR, as a result of election-related tensions in neighbouring Burundi, Rwanda opened its border to Burundian refugees who have fled the country since April 2015.
Mahama Refugee Camp located in Kirehe District in the Eastern Province has become the country’s largest camp – hosting Burundian refugees since the emergency.
It has a population of around 60,000 refugees.Follow https://twitter.com/EmNtirenganya