More than 2,500 Rwandan and Congolese illegal immigrants living in Burundi will be sent home in January because they pose a potential threat to security in a volatile border area, a regional governor said on Tuesday.
Years of conflict in the central African neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo have forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee, seeking refuge in a country they judge safe.
Samson Ndayizeye, governor of the northwestern province of Citiboke, bordering Congo, said there were signs that Rwandan and Congolese illegal immigrants were collaborating with rebel groups in the tiny coffee-growing country.
“There are some indications showing that those illegal Rwandans and Congolese collaborate with the Rwandan Hutu rebels from the FDLR and Burundi rebels from FNL,” Ndayizeye told Reuters.
“In order to control security on our common border, we decided to send them back to their country of origin.”
Looking for a lasting peace
Analysts say there can be no lasting peace in Burundi, which is emerging from more than a decade of ethnic civil war, unless the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), the country’s last remaining rebel group, disarms.
While in eastern Congo, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) — fighters from the former Armed Forces of Rwanda and Interahamwe militia blamed for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed — are accused of abusing and killing civilians.
Ndayizeye said those who refused to return home would be grouped in one place to ease control over their movements.
Many illegal immigrants fled to Burundi in the mid-1990s, many rent houses and have bought land from locals in Citiboke.
Burundi shelters an estimated 9,000 Congolese refugees and over 4,000 Rwandan asylum seekers, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.
Fears of returning home
In June, thousands of Rwandans who fled to Burundi fearing persecution over the 1994 genocide returned home.
The Rwandans began arriving in April, saying they feared unfair treatment at village courts that recently started trying people suspected of the genocide.
The Hutu refugees, many of them women and children, have said they faced threats from Tutsi genocide survivors.
The U.N. accused Burundi of returning them forcibly and breaking an international convention on refugees.
A UNHCR spokesman said the refugee agency was in contact with authorities in Citiboke, but gave no further comment.