BUJUMBURA, 20 July (IRIN) - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates there are still more than 2,000 Rwandan asylum seekers in the northern provinces of Burundi despite a joint operation by Burundian and Rwandan authorities on 13 June to repatriate them.
"Small numbers of asylum seekers have kept coming from Rwanda and others probably never left," Catherine-Lune Grayson, the UNHCR external relations officer in Bujumbura, said on Wednesday.
She said UNHCR added the numbers of Rwandan asylum seekers in different areas in northern Burundi that were provided by local authorities, the local Red Cross and representatives of asylum seekers to come up with its estimate.
UNHCR is currently assisting 62 of the asylum seekers in the centre of Mugano Communce, in Ngozi Province. However, she said many others were dispersed in the communes of Mparamirundi and Gatsinda in Ngozi; as well as in Rwisuri, in Kirundo Province.
A wave of Rwandan asylum seekers started arriving in Burundi in March but the Rwandan government has said that many were fugitives from justice. Rwandan and Burundi officials decided in June that they should be reclassified as "illegal immigrants".
Grayson said the asylum seekers were claiming to have fled Rwanda because they were being "intimidated, discriminated and persecuted". The UN and numerous human rights groups have accused Burundi and Rwandan authorities of illegally forcing the asylum seekers to return.
Burundi denied that 2,000 asylum seekers were still in the county. "They are only 200 families on the frontier between Burundi and Rwanda," Didace Nzikoruriho, the colonel in charge of refugees in Burundi's Ministry of Interior, said.
He added that Burundi was not worried about them, saying they will likely go home on their own.
"They are not going to settle here and we would not like to make a big issue of it," he said.
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