By Moses Gahigi and Ivan R. Mugisha
The decision by Rwanda to relocate Burundian refugees to other countries is threatening to turn off the tap of donor funding for refugee programmes, experts say.
The Kigali's stance was announced last week, with the international community and local observers anticipating that the government may forcibly relocate refugees who prefer to remain in Rwanda.
UNHCR has been seeking financial support from donors, but now it has to explain Rwanda’s position first.
“The UNHCR just released its plan for this year. We urgently need donor contributions to get our programmes off the ground and continue receiving refugees,” Martina Pomeroy, the external relations officer of UNHCR Rwanda exactly, said. “But donors are asking what they are contributing to if there will be no Burundian refugees in Rwanda.”
The government last week said it will “immediately” begin working with partners in the international community to plan the orderly and safe relocation of Burundian refugees to third countries.
This was after UNHCR had released the Burundi Refugee Response Plan and also signed a funding agreement with the Rwanda Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, worth $10.8 million, for the first phase of the 2016 refugee programme.
Following the announcement by Rwanda, UNHCR convened an urgent meeting with Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs Serafine Mukantabana, to clarify the matter over the refugees will indeed be forced out of Rwanda.
“The minister clarified that Rwanda will not close its borders, and will not forcibly expel Burundian refugees. We urged the government to make such clarifications publicly as soon as possible to prevent panic on the part of refugees in Rwanda, and to address the many questions that are raised by this morning’s statement,” a statement from UNHCR says.
When asked if the government agreed to make a public clarification, Ms Pomeroy said that it had not happened.
“They have not made the clarification. We are still waiting for the government to make the clarifications public. They insist their statement is clear, but it raised many questions for us, for donors and for the refugees, which they need to be called upon to answer,” she noted.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment on the matter, but said that the Burundi government “should solve this crisis before it spills into a regional problem.