A visit to a Burundi refugee camp in Tanzania by delegations and personalities mainly from the EAC was seen by critics as a move to force the refugees to return.
Following a visit of different delegations from EAC, AU, Tanzania and Kenya to a Burundi refugee camp in Tanzania, some critics see the move as intended to pressure the refugees to return. They claim the return of the refugees will primarily serve for the government of Bujumbura, as an evidence of peace and stability in a country stricken with instability for the last two years.
On Monday, delegates of the EAC, AU, the Office of the Facilitator in the inter-Burundian dialogue and the Tanzanian, Kenyan and Ugandan governments visited Nduta refugee camp sheltering Burundians in Tanzania. The EU delegation was expected to join the other visitors but was hindered at the last minutes.
Local media reported the purpose of the visit was to see how the refugees are living and to gauge their opinions about solutions to the current crisis.
Some opponents to the government of Bujumbura claim the purpose of the visit was to compel refugees to go back home.
“The objective was to force the refugees to go back home even though the insecurity they fled is still there”, says Tatien Sibomana, a political opponent.
Sibomana says once the refugees in Tanzania are back, the government will use that as the evidence for peace in the country.
He says the government will also claim the remaining refugees are those in Rwanda and others elsewhere who collaborate with the rival country or who have taken part in the 2015 attempt to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Jean de Dieu Mutabazi, a political actor allied to the government, says the visit intended to “reassure the refugees that there is security in their homeland and encourage them to return”.
Mutabazi also says the delegations aimed to discourage some agents of the UN Refugee Agency to stop holding refugees who wish to return. “We have learned from trustworthy sources that there are some corrupt agents of the UNHCR that hinder some refugees from coming back home”, says Mutabazi.
To a Twitter user who claimed the visitors wanted “to help Burundi regime to repatriate refugees”, MacochaTembele, Personal Assistant to the Facilitator answered such claim was “a blatant lie”. He said a communiqué about the objective of the mission would be issued.
The UN Refugee Agency and Burundi government disagree on the number of refugees who have fled the crisis that broke out in 2015.
The government accuses the agency of exaggerating the number of Burundian refugees. It also claims that the agency operating in the region is unwilling to let refugees return home for fear of losing profits it gets from them. “These agents try to inflate the number of refugees and keep even those who want to return so the sponsors keep on giving them money”, says Térence Ntahiraja, Spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“The agency exists because there are refugees. If there are no more refugees it will no more get money. So those guys do whatever they can to keep their source of living”, says Ntahiraja.