Thousands of Rwandan refugees living in overcrowded Burundi transit centre

Friday, June 10, 2005

There are over 5,000 Rwandan refugees living in a Burundi transit centre designed to hold 800, according to the UNHCR. The refugees, who were fleeing Rwanda's Gacaca courts, were forced to move from their previous border site because authorities tore it down.

"The move was the result of a decision last week by the Rwandan and Burundian authorities to group all the asylum seekers in one site to make it easier for them to ensure their safety and conduct an information campaign to try to convince the asylum seekers to return home," a UNHCR press release reported.

The UNHCR is working to improve conditions at the camp, however it will take a couple of weeks before the situation improves.

The asylum seekers began fleeing Rwanda for Burundi in early April. Their main concern was the Gacaca courts that are investigating war crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. However, the UNHCR is also reporting that some asylum seekers "... said they were fleeing threats, intimidation, persecution and rumours of revenge and bloodshed."

The courts were set up three years ago, however so far their time has been taken up with trial runs. There are 10,000 courts across the country, and they are expected to take eight years to process all accused. Regular courts would have taken up to 100 years. The judges are untrained citizens elected by their peers, and questions have been raised about the fairness of the courts.

The Rwandan government accused the UNHCR of exaggerating the size of the refugee problem, and thus causing more people to flee. They put the figure at just over 2,000.

The UNHCR is "exaggerating the number of refugees which later caused fear and made more others to flee the country," a government minister said.