The government of Burundi through its ministry of internal affairs and patriotic training is ready to welcome Burundians who are exiled as refugees.
This was announced by Pascal Barandagiye, the minister of home affairs and patriotic education.
The minister was meeting a group of 34,705 Burundian refugees housed at Nakivale Refugee Settlement Camp. Barandagiye was accompanied by the Burundian ambassador to Uganda Jean Bosco Barege and other government officials from both Burundi and Uganda.
Barandagiye assured Burundians in exile that the situation in Burundi is stable; explaining that what happened in 2015 is over adding that all Burundians at home are waiting to build a peaceful and stable nation. Barandagiye and his team had gone to talk them about repatriation.
He asked the officials of UNCHR and the Ugandan government to work together with Burundi to take back all those who are ready to go. He however told them that the government of Burundi would not force anyone to back home but warned those who are sceptical and reluctant to repatriate that their status as refugees is temporary.
“The purpose of our coming here was to tell you that the government of Burundi is ready to welcome you. We are here telling them to voluntarily go back home for those who feel that they are ready to go. Those who are not ready can still be sensitized till they feel they are ready to go” he said.
Douglas Asiimwe, the officer in charge of refugee protection in the Prime Minister’s office said Uganda welcomes Burundi’s idea to repatriate its nationals as a durable solution to refugee problems.
He said once they are ready and feel reasons that led to their going into exile ceased to exist, that Uganda and UNHCR are ready to support the move.
He said they are going to continue to engage with them and build confidence in them to return home.
Police tightens minister’s security
Police heavily deployed and guarded Barandagiye to protect him from being attacked by angry refugees. The refugees were first angered by journalists’ cameras that started filming and photographing them shortly after the meeting had commenced.
They were again angered by Barandagiye’s order that they should only ask questions not giving lamentations and speeches during a question and answer session.
“Don’t photograph us, we are going away if they continue taking our pictures” some shouted.
The situation was calmed by Asiimwe who cautioned refugees of their indiscipline and convinced them that the journalists were not from Burundi but from Ugandan and that their presence was for their well-being and would help them get more help from international organizations.
“This is Uganda; you are under our protection and care. As a person in charge of refugees I want to see order here, when you are in Uganda you are under Ugandan laws; in Uganda we are not dis-organized. If you have come to disrupt this meeting you risk being arrested, media has a role of your well-being” Asiimwe warned.
Refugees vow not to return home
Some refugees expressed hesitation to return home. They said some of the things that pushed them out of their country including political discrimination still exist. They also fear persecution, harassment, physical and mental violence, ethnicity discrimination.
“We can’t go there since what pushed us to flee is still there, the President is still there in his illegal term, they should have come to tell us that the President Nkurunziza has resigned and the killing of soldiers and policemen has stopped, there we can go back” one of the refugees said.
“There is no security in Burundi; it is better we live here in the camp rather than going back” another said.
A few of them especially those who came six years back indicated their readiness to return home.
They also fear targeted albino killings in Burundi, a challenge they said has been there since 2010.
In a four-page document they handed over to the delegation, the refugees added that children who were born in exile since 1965, 1972, 1988 and 1993 were forced to return to Burundi and are homeless because their properties were destroyed and their land was taken by leaders and security officers.
Through UNHCR and the Uganda government, the refugees requested humanitarian organizations that are in charge of defending the international rights of refugees to seriously consider their outcry.
They requested the government of Uganda to keep hosting them.
They were concerned about Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC and attributed this to the increasing killings.