According to Amnesty International, the involuntary repatriation of Burundian refugees from Tanzania could begin as soon as the second week of September, as stated on a bilateral agreement signed on the 24th of August by Tanzania’s Minister for Home Affairs Kangi Lugola and Burundi’s Minister of Interior Pascal Barandagiye. Since late September 2017, more than 75,000 people have returned to Burundi under a voluntary programme facilitated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This recent move by the two governments is fundamentally opposed by the UNHCR, as Burundi continues to commit serious human rights violations and acts of repression. Hundreds of individuals still flee Burundi each month, regardless of a statement made by Kangi Lugola in which he described Burundi as peaceful, adding that he had “information whereby people, international organisations, are deceiving people, telling them there is no peace in Burundi.” This is contradictory to a report by Human Rights Watch, which describes the government of Burundi as a perpetrator of executions, rapes, abductions and intimidation of suspected political opponents. Consequently, the forced repatriation desired by both Tanzania and Burundi is undoubtably problematic and should be reconsidered. Burundi people have the right to receive protection without the threat of the non-refoulement principle being violated.
Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, responded to events with a statement, “It is extremely shocking that the Government of Tanzania is willing to send people against their will to a place the UN has deemed requires close monitoring as crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations continue unchecked…The governments of Tanzania and Burundi must immediately abandon their new plans to forcibly repatriate Burundi refugees.” The UNHCR reinforces these sentiments, declaring that, “The UNHCR urges states to ensure that no refugee is returned to Burundi against their will, and that measures are taken to make conditions in Burundi more conducive for refugees returns, including confidence-building efforts and incentives for those who have chosen to go home.” Both Tanzania and Burundi are actively denying these calls, with the agreement explicitly affirming that “whether our partner UNHCR will show interest to play their role or wants to delay us, we, the two countries, will proceed with this exercise to ensure that these Burundians go to their home.” This is a ‘home’ that has been experiencing a political and economic crisis for more than four years.
The current conflict in Burundi comes as a result of protests against ruling President Pierre Nkurunziza, in which 1,200 Burundians have been killed and 400,000 have fled since 2015. Violence has only been escalating since the start of the year as the election looms, according to Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “Historically, there have been crackdowns on journalists, independent civil society and political opponents moving into electoral periods.” This is a country that is fundamentally unsafe and uninterested in international obligations and norms, and it seems like it has no intention of reform, for example in 2017 it was the first state to quit the International Criminal Court, last year it shut down all NGOs working in the country for several months, and earlier this year it forced the United Nations to shut down its local human rights office. This behaviour demonstrates a dangerous trajectory and a nation that has not proven that its conditions are conducive to refugee repatriation.
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