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UN Concern About Rwandan Asylum Seekers in Burundi

UN Concerned About ‘Precarious Conditions’ of 5,000 Rwandan Asylum Seekers in Burundi

New York, May 10 2005 12:00PM

The United Nations refugee agency today expressed its concern over the fate of thousands of Rwandans who have fled to neighbouring Burundi fearing retribution from village courts set up to try people suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide.

Though chiefly concerned about some 5,000 Rwandan asylum seekers living in makeshift conditions along the two countries’ border areas, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also said that nearly 7,000 Rwandans have entered Burundi since early April, many citing threats and rumours of massacres and revenge attacks.

In mid-April, UNHCR transferred some 1,800 Rwandan asylum seekers further inland in Burundi, but Burundian authorities halted that operation by the end of the month. That left about 5,000 Rwandans in precarious conditions near the border. The UNHCR said it wants them moved to more secure areas.

With some 9,000 local “gacaca” tribunals beginning their work across the country, officials from both Rwanda and Burundi are conducting a two-week campaign aimed at easing the fears of the asylum seekers and encouraging them to return home voluntarily, UNHCR said.

In the meantime, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are providing emergency humanitarian assistance on an ad hoc basis to the thousands gathered at the border. UNHCR has distributed blankets, plastic sheeting and kitchen sets to the asylum seekers, while several NGOs are providing medical care. But to date, this assistance remains limited.

ENDS

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