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Rwanda and Burundi must halt forcible return of refugees

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United States says assistance and protection must be given to asylum seekers

The United States June 14 called on the governments of Rwanda and Burundi to "halt immediately" their forcible return of Rwandan asylum seekers in Burundi and to uphold their commitments under international law to grant the asylum seekers their basic right for protection in neighboring states.

Following is the statement issued by the State Department spokesman:

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
June 14, 2005

STATEMENT BY SEAN MCCORMACK, SPOKESMAN

Involuntary Repatriation of Rwandan Refugees

The United States deplores the involuntary return of 10,000 Rwandan asylum seekers from Burundi, which is in violation of both the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention on Refugees to which Rwanda and Burundi are parties.

We call on the Governments of Rwanda and Burundi to halt immediately their efforts to forcibly return asylum seekers and to uphold their commitments under international law regarding the basic right to seek asylum and protection in neighboring states. Rwandan asylum seekers still in Burundi should be moved from the border to secure locations within Burundi where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the Burundian government, can conduct individual status determinations. No asylum seeker in either country who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution should be returned against his or her will. We also call on the Governments of Rwanda and Burundi to provide UNHCR and its partner organizations with access to refugees and returnees in both countries so that protection and assistance may be provided to those in need.

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)