Rwanda Seeks to Relocate Burundian Refugees, Citing Risks

Rwanda is seeking to relocate refugees it hosts from East African neighbor Burundi, saying the presence of those who’ve fled a nine-month political crisis “carries considerable risks.”

Rwanda is working with international partners to plan the safe and orderly transfer of the refugees to other nations, Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said early Friday in an e-mailed statement. The country was hosting 72,175 Burundian refugees as of Jan. 26, according to the United Nations.

“Rwanda readily shoulders its obligations to protect and care for refugees,” Mushikiwabo said. “However, experience in the Great Lakes is that the long-term presence of refugees so close to their country of origin carries considerable risks for all involved.”

The UN Refugee Agency has called for an urgent meeting with Rwanda’s government to “get clarification” on the statement, spokeswoman Erika Fitzpatrick said Friday in a text message.

Landlocked Burundi, home to 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves, has been hit by a wave of political violence that’s killed about 440 people since President Pierre Nkurunziza decided in April to stand for a third term. The U.S. this week expressed concern that Rwanda could be training rebels to fight in Burundi, further destabilizing its neighbor.

Mushikiwabo criticized “the callous indifference to the well-known root causes of instability in Burundi” and said refugees were being exposed to “increased threats from forces at home.”

The growing risks to Rwanda’s national security from Burundi’s crisis and “misunderstandings” in Rwandan foreign relations are “unacceptable,” she said.

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