UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
BURUNDI-RWANDA: Officials agree to repatriate "asylum seekers"
BUJUMBURA, 18 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Burundian and Rwandan government officials agreed on Monday to the eventual repatriation of some 3,225 Rwandans who have sought refuge in northern Burundi.
Governors of the northern provinces of Kirundo and Ngozi, where the Rwandans are, are due to meet on 24 October to determine ways of implementing the conclusions of Monday's meeting between delegations led by Burundi's minister of interior and public security, Salvator Ntacobamaze, and Rwandan Minister of Interior Protais Musoni.
However, the status of the Rwandans remains unclear, with the Burundian and Rwandan officials terming them refugees while the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, considers them to be asylum seekers.
Up to 4,000 of the Rwandans first fled to Burundi between April and June but they were all repatriated after a meeting of officials from both countries. However, they have since returned to northern Burundi.
A public information assistant for UNHCR in Burundi, Didier Bukuru, told IRIN on Tuesday that the agency considered the Rwandans "asylum seekers" because "until now they have not got any refugee status". He said the agency had been allowed to provide food aid to the Rwandans.
A local reporter who attended the ministers' meeting on Monday in Ngozi Province said of the 3,225 Rwandans counted by Monday, 1,300 were at Gatsinda in Mwumba Commune, 30 at Mivo Commune, both communes in Ngozi; 311 at Mparamirundi in Busiga Commune and 2,600 at Rwisuri in Vumbi, in Kirundo Province.
Bukuru said there was need to settle the Rwandans far from the border as required by law that camps for the displaced be at least 150 km from the common border. He said one location would be ideal to facilitate aid distribution and protection of the asylum seekers.
During Monday's meeting, the Rwandan and Burundian officials also agreed on the need to control border movement to prevent armed Rwandan and Burundian rebels from hiding among the asylum seekers.
Rwandan Interior Minister Protais Musoni said elements of Burundi's rebel Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) and Rwanda's Front Democratique pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) had been arrested in Rwanda and that they had owned up to belonging to these groups.
"They agree they collaborate and are mandated to recruit among the Rwandan asylum seekers and take them to rebel training centres in the Kibira Forest and in other training camps," he said.
He said such rebels had been stealing motorcycles and livestock in Rwanda and taking them to Burundi, contributing to insecurity in the two countries.
In a communiqué they issued after the meeting, the officials agreed there was no reason for Burundians and Rwandans to flee their homes as peace and security is gradually re-established in both countries.
They recommended that both countries should collaborate in determining why the Rwandan asylum seekers had really fled their country.
The officials also called for a joint sensitisation for a rapid return of the Burundian refugees and the Rwandan asylum seekers to their respective countries, with the help of the local administration.
The officials called on local administrators to meet regularly in order to exchange information on security on the common border and ensure security.
Officials from the two countries urged the international community to support "the move to boost governance, security and democracy in both countries".
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