Burundi refugees return home from Rwanda as ties thaw

Africa

Burundi refugees who fled to neighbouring Rwanda kin 2015 following political unrest have started to return home as diplomatic ties between the two east African neighbours warm up.

The first group of over 500 people left Mahama camp in eastern Rwanda early on Thursday, after they had tested for coronavirus.

More than 60,000 Burundian refugees live in the camp.

“I am extremely happy to be going back home, I fled with three children and I am going back with five and their mother, we are all fine,” said Emmanuel Bizimana aboard one of the buses.

A UN refugee agency spokesperson Elise Villechalane said more than 1,800 refugees in the camp have registered to go back home.

“We can’t take them all now because a transit camp to temporally lodge them in Burundi can only host around 500,” she said.

President of Burundi Evariste Ndayishimiye had earlier this month accused Rwanda of “holding the refugees hostage” and said his country “will never have relations with a country that uses irony” in its relations.

But on Wednesday the army chiefs of the two countries met at the border in “efforts to resolve conflicts”.

UNHRC’s data released in June showed that more than 430,000 Burundian refugees live in the East African region.

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