Burundians continue to flee their country due to ongoing threats and abuses despite their government’s insistence that many are returning, according to a report published on Thursday.
The report by the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) says that members of the Imbonerakure – the ruling party’s youth wing which has been described as a militia – continue to carry out killings and enforced disappearances of those deemed not supportive of the regime.
Testimonies collected from Burundians who arrived in Uganda between March and June 2017, challenge the Burundian government’s official narrative, which urges refugees to “return to their homeland, because peace and security prevail on the whole national territory,” according to IRRI.
The report shows that while some are indeed returning to Burundi, new arrivals in neighbouring countries significantly outnumber the returnees.
“If the Burundian authorities are serious about promoting the return of refugees, they must reign in the Imbonerakure and ensure accountability for abuses committed since the beginning of the political crisis, including through cooperation with international efforts.”
Burundi was plunged into political crisis in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term, which he went on to win.
At least 500 people have been killed in ensuing violence, according to the UN – although rights groups put the figure at over 1 000 – and more than 400 000 have fled the country since the crisis began.
Nkurunziza made a rare foreign trip in July to Tanzania where he declared that “Burundi is at peace”, urging refugees in the country to return.
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), 275 000 Burundians have fled to Tanzania, a figure contested by both governments, which maintain that a large number have already returned home.
Rwanda which accommodates over 86 000 refugees – the second highest number in the region – now gets about 150 refugees entering per week, according to the UN refugee agency in the country.