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Rwandan Refugees Moved Without Notice

Rwandan Refugees Moved Without Notice Farther into Burundi, UN Says

New York, May 31 2005 5:00PM

The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern over the surprise relocation over the weekend of thousands of Rwandan asylum-seekers by Burundian authorities to an inadequately equipped northern transit centre in their post-conflict Great Lakes country.

Without notifying the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for the second time in a month, Burundian troops dismantled three border sites where more than 5,500 Rwandans had recently received temporary shelters, latrines and water, and thousands of them were walking 50 kilometres to Songore transit centre, UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said.
The Burundian authorities also ordered the closure of Cankuzo transit centre, with its 1,700 refugees, shortly after temporary shelters, sanitation facilities and water had arrived there, she said. UNHCR moved 572 Rwandans from Cankuzo to Songore and the transfer was continuing.

“Although UNHCR has been pressing for the relocation of the asylum seekers to the two inland transit centres for security and assistance reasons, the way this is being done causes us concern," Ms. Pagonis said.

"Songore is ill-prepared to receive large numbers of people and those converging there now are once again in very precarious conditions. They will initially have to live in the open, without basic sanitation facilities and with limited water supplies."

The agency would take two or three weeks to expand and upgrade the facilities at Songore, she said.

Rwandan asylum-seekers first arrived in Burundi in early April, citing fears of traditional local courts, or gacaca tribunals, looking into the 1994 genocide by Hutu extremists that took the lives of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. They also cited threats of intimidation, persecution and rumours of revenge as reasons for leaving home. The refugees built makeshift shelters just inside the border in Burundi.

The ethnic ratios of Tutsis, Hutus and Twa in Burundi and Rwanda are similar.
UNHCR said another 1,500 Rwandan refugees had arrived in Uganda.

ENDS

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