Relocation of Burundian refugees in Rwanda featured among refugees-welfare issues discussed yesterday at a high level meeting between government officials and prominent envoys from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
The meeting in Kigali was attended by among others, Volker Tür, the UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner in charge of refugee protection.
The Government of Rwanda announced in February that it would begin relocating Burundian refugees to third countries, citing challenges resulting from their proximity to Burundi.
“We want to talk with UNHCR officials about how to implement this decision,” Rwanda’s minister for disaster management and refugee affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana told journalists.
Other than the opening session, the discussions were held in a closed-door meeting.
“It’s something that can be done gradually. It’s not about closing camps for Burundian refugees who genuinely need protection,” Minister Mukantabana said.
Rwanda has been widely lauded for her hospitality accorded to Burundian refugees since they flooded the country’s borders last year when political conflicts erupted in Burundi.
Tür expressed gratitude for the Rwandan people and government who are taking care of refugees and promised that any crucial issues in that area, including national security, would be discussed at the high level meeting.
“We are very grateful for the hosting of Burundian refugees in Rwanda and I think it’s important to emphasise that the granting of asylum is a humanitarian and non-political act,” Tür said.
“We are looking at whatever we can do in order to find solutions for refugees. We still have Congolese refugees in the country, we have Burundian refugees in the country, and we hope very much that we can work with all of you to find a solution. We know that keeping people in exile is not going to be the solution,” he said.
While Rwanda’s decision to relocate Burundian refugees to other countries was announced after a leaked UN report alleged that Rwanda was recruiting Burundian rebels from the refugees, Tür was unequivocal in dismissing the baseless allegations.
“It is clear that asylum is a non-political act; it’s a humanitarian act. The generosity and hospitality of the people and government of Rwanda is commendable. We have no indications about what you have just mentioned,” he said of the allegations.
Minister Mukantabana pointed that the meeting in Kigali was an opportunity to once again clear the air.
“This meeting is a good opportunity to clear rumours about Burundian refugees joining the army or attacking their country. Those who make these allegations want to suggest that Burundian refugees don’t deserve protection and we are against it. People need to know that refugees are refugees and they can’t be something else,” she said.
Of more than 163,000 refugees in Rwanda, about 85,000 are from Burundi, officials at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs said.
Among other issues that were discussed at the high level meeting include how to improve the provision of essential services to refugees such as health, education, security, as well as their documentation and registration.