The daily influx of Burundian refugees into Rwanda is heading to a record 3,000, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (Midimar) reported yesterday.
Frederic Ntawukuriryayo, the Midimar communications officer told Sunday Times that 2,683 people were received on Friday at reception centres in Bugesera, Nyanza and Rusizi.
As they arrived, 391 of their countrymen and women who arrived earlier in the week were moved from Nyanza to a settlement camp in Kirehe District. Another 1, 226 also assembled in Bugesera, Gisagara and Nyaruguru districts, waiting to be transported to transit centres.
By the time we went to press, those who fled their country on Saturday were still being counted, but Midimar said about 1,500 had already crossed the border into Rwanda as of 3.00pm. “The daily average is rapidly increasing; they kept coming the whole night,” said Ntawukuriryayo.
The surging numbers come after Kigali, on Friday granted prima facie refugee status, to those already in the county as per the Rwandan law relating to refugees and the 1951 Convention on refugees. The convention is the key international legal document that defines the rights of refugees and the legal obligations of states.
The number of Burundian asylum seekers in Rwanda reached 13, 729 on Friday. They include 2,168 men, 3,062 women and 7,273 children.
Ntawukuriryayo said that given the situation, the government and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, are increasing capacity to evacuate big numbers from the transit centres to a settlement camp in Mahama, Kirehe District where the first 600 refugees were transferred on Wednesday.
Mahama camp is 50 hectare large and can accommodate 50,000 people. It is located about 160 kilometers away from the Rwanda-Burundi border.
Images obtained earlier on Saturday showed huge numbers streaming to reception centres in Nyamabuye sector, Bugesera District. By 10:00am yesterday, over 800 had been registered at Nyamabuye alone.
On Friday, disaster management and refugee affairs minister Seraphine Mukantabana, announced that the decision to grant the Burundians prima facie refugee status was taken considering the overwhelming numbers that continue to trek into the country.
According to the UNHCR, during mass movements of refugees (usually as a result of conflict or generalized violence as opposed to individual persecution), there is no capacity to conduct individual asylum interviews for everyone who has crossed the border.
The UN agency says doing so is not entirely necessary either, since in such circumstances it is generally evident why they have fled and, as a result, such groups are often declared “prima facie” refugees.
Mukantabana on Friday pointed out that given the influx, the government asked partners such as UNHCR to be prepared should the numbers hit 50,000—beyond Rwanda’s holding capacity.
Martina Pomeroy, UNHCR-Rwanda external relations officer, on the same day said that her organization is prepared to handle about 30,000 people.
Yesterday she said that given the nature of the current “emergency situation,” contingency planning is not on the cards anymore.
“A contingency plan is really not the issue anymore. Now, it is about taking action. We are relocating people every day,” Pomeroy said.
“Today, we are constantly receiving and counting those coming. Today, we (UNHCR) are relocating 800 people while the government relocates 600, from both the transit camps in Bugesera and Nyanza, to Mahama.”
As of Saturday, 3,000 Burundians had crossed to DR Congo—up from 2,000 earlier this past week, the UNHCR said.
Rwanda is also home to more than 73,000 Congolese refugees settled in five camps in various parts of the country.
The refugees say they are escaping from political instability back home linked to the insecurity caused by a simmering election fever ahead of forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
The refugees particularly claim to be fleeing from Imbonerakure (Kirundi word literally meaning “those that see far”), a youth wing of Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for Defence and Democracy (CNDD-FDD), allegedly harassing and attacking members of opposition political parties.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the CNDD-FDD held a congress in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, where president Pierre Nkurunziza was nominated as the party’s flag bearer in the upcoming presidential polls set for end June.
His opponents say the move is unconstitutional and there have been protests in the capital even as thousands of citizens flee the country.