Burundi + 1 more

Rwanda: NGOs say "forced" returnees need monitoring

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NAIROBI, 15 July (IRIN) - International Rescue Committee (IRC) said on Thursday it and nine other international NGOs had requested international monitoring of 8,000 Rwandans who they say were taken from Burundi illegally and by force on 13 June.

In a letter on 1 July to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the NGOs asked her to "insist that the Rwandan government provide guarantees that the safety and dignity of those returned from Burundi will be ensured, and that these guarantees be subject to effective international monitoring."

The NGOs also said: "The government of Burundi, under pressure from the government of Rwanda, declared that the 8,000 Rwandan asylum seekers in Burundi were ineligible for asylum, designating them as illegal immigrants, and thereby clearing the way to forcibly expel them from Burundi."

The NGOs said Burundi and Rwanda violated the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

"The fact that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] was excluded from the repatriation operation, underlines the problematic nature of these returns," the NGO said in the letter.

The IRC said the letter was also sent on behalf of a coalition of 160 developmental and humanitarian NGOs in the United States.

The Rwandan government has dismissed claims made earlier by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UNHCR that Rwanda and Burundi had violated their obligations under international refugee law.

"Most of these people were running away fearing charges in the local Gacaca courts," Protais Musoni, Rwanda's minister for local government, told IRIN in June. "It is not in the mandate of UNHCR to accept such a group of people."

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