Burundi: Thousands take refuge in Rwanda as election approaches (Afrique Expansion)

| May 4, 2015

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Emmanuel Minani decided to leave Burundi when the ruling party’s youth wing, known as Imbonerakure, threatened to burn his house. The farmer is just one of the thousands of Burundians who are taking refuge in neighbouring Rwanda. According to the refugees, the youth group has been terrorizing ethnic Tutsis in the run-up to the June presidential election.

The memories of the 1993-2006 civil war are still fresh in Burundi. There have been recent fights between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority.

Mr. Minani, his wife, and his four children arrived recently in the village of Gashora, in southeast Rwanda. The 44-year-old farmer says: “The Imbonerakure threaten to kill us because we are not party members, and we refuse to vote for President Pierre Nkurunziza … At night [the Imbonerakure] patrolled the neighbourhood and threatened to burn our house.”

President Nkurunziza has been head of state since 2005. As the election approaches, his decision to stand for a third term is fuelling tensions. He has the full support of the Imbonerakure, which the United Nations accuses of openly intimidating voters. Its members are aggressively supporting the president. But his opponents say a third term is unconstitutional. Even his own party is disputing his right to stand for office.

Like the other Burundians in Gashora, Mr. Minani comes from Busoni, a dozen kilometres inside the Burundian border. He and his fellow refugees arrived in Rwanda a week ago, carrying what they could. The group settled in the dilapidated buildings of a former military camp near the village of Gashora, which has been transformed into a centre for refugees.

Some secretly re-cross the border to retrieve what possessions they can. Gérard Macumi moved his family into a windowless house with a leaking roof. The 25-year-old says, “I left my goats and my chickens. I did not even take a change of clothes.” He sighs and adds, “When you have problems with Imbonerakure, you can’t complain to anyone. It is the government that sends them – they are stronger than the army.”

Like many others, Mr. Macumi decided to leave after an opposition radio station reported that factions are preparing for “war,” and that weapons are being “distributed” to the Imbonerakure. He says, “As I saw my neighbours leave, I went too.”

According to Rwandan authorities, nearly 6,000 Burundians have recently crossed the border. And the flow is increasing. Nearly one thousand are arriving in Rwanda every day.

It’s not easy to cross the border. The first time Mr. Minani tried, the Imbonerakure intercepted him. He says, “They stole our goats and … forced us to go home.”

Mr. Minani says the youth group has occupied positions along the border. He explains, “People were trying to cross [the border] in the rain. But the Imbonerakure pitched tents on the border [so they are] able to keep watch at any time.”He says the Imbonerakure generally beat those they intercept. His compatriots nod in agreement.

To read the article on which this story is based, Des milliers de Burundais terrorisés à l’approche des élections se réfugient au Rwanda, go to: http://www.afriqueexpansion.com/depeches-afp/20166-2015-04-16-17-33-15.html

For more on the situation in Burundi, see Burundi on the brink: http://www.pambazuka.net/en/category.php/features/94597

Photo credit: S. Agglietti AFP Getty images