UNHCR criticises Rwanda's and Burundi's decision to re-label refugees as illegal immigrants

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has criticised the governments of Rwanda and Burundi for their decision to mutually re-label each others asylum seekers as illegal immigrants. The UNHCR is concerned that the rights of asylum seekers may be abused.

"If they are summarily sent back without a proper procedure to determine whether or not they are refugees, then that could well be in contravention of international refugee law, and in particular the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Convention," a UNHCR press release said.

In a joint press release, both countries declared that the asylum seekers had left their countries "without good reason," and were therefore illegal immigrants.

The Rwandan asylum seekers began arriving in Burundi in March. Their main concern was the Gacaca courts, however the UNHCR is also reporting that some asylum seekers "... said they were fleeing threats, intimidation, persecution and rumours of revenge and bloodshed."

Earlier this week the Rwandan government put the number of asylum seekers at 2,000, and accused the UNHCR of exaggerating the size of the refugee problem, and thus causing more people to flee.

There are 8,000 Rwandan asylum seekers in Burundi, and nearly 7,000 Burundians in Rwanda, according to the UNHCR.

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