Rwanda’s government has said it plans to relocate Burundian refugees to other countries after being accused of involvement in “destabilising activities” in its crisis-hit neighbouring country.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement on Friday that her government would immediately begin working with partners in the international community to plan the orderly and safe relocation of Burundian refugees to third countries.
“The refugee exodus is troubling. It also exposes refugees to increased threats from forces at home and compromises lasting political solutions,” Mushikiwabo said.
Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans in April to run for a third term, which he went on to win.
Hundreds of people have been killed and at least 230,000 have fled the country. Rwanda is currently hosting about 75,000 Burundian refugees.
The Burundian government has accused Kigali of training and arming rebels, charges Rwandan President Paul Kagame has vigorously denied.
On Wednesday, the United States accused Rwanda of involvement in “destabilising activities” in Burundi, including the recruitment of refugees for armed attacks against the government in Bujumbura.
Last week, UN experts told the Security Council that Rwanda had recruited and trained refugees from Burundi, including children, who wanted to remove Nkurunziza from power.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday it had not been informed in advance about Rwanda’s plan.
UNHCR later met with Rwandan officials, who reportedly insisted that Kigali “would continue to respect its international obligations to protect refugees, would not close its borders and would not forcibly expel Burundian refugees”.
In a statement, the UNHCR “urged the government to make such clarifications publicly as soon as possible to prevent panic on the part of refugees in Rwanda”.
Neighbouring nations already host thousands of Burundian refugees in overstretched camps, with Tanzania hosting some 130,000 and Democratic Republic of Congo more than 18,000. Uganda, which borders Rwanda to the north, has 21,000.
It was not clear where Rwanda plans to send the refugees.
In her statement, Mushikiwabo pointedly criticised her country’s southern neighbour, saying: “The callous indifference to the well-known root causes of instability in Burundi and the refugee exodus is troubling.”
Violence continues to flare in Burundi. On Thursday, a grenade blast wounded 26 people in the capital Bujumbura, nine of them seriously, the latest in a string of attacks.
Meanwhile, the European Union, dissatisfied with the progress in Burundi, is expected on Monday to announce the suspension of direct aid to the government, a diplomatic source in Brussels told the AFP news agency.
The EU is Burundi’s biggest donor, with a programme worth some $468m from 2014 to 2020.