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By Lisa Vives
He was called the Lumumba of Burundi. From a royal Tutsi family, he dreamed of a nation free of colonial rule. After a brief sojourn in Belgium, Prince Rwagasore returned home to join the independence struggle. In 1961, he was sworn-in as Prime Minister.
Two weeks after taking office, Prince Rwagasore was assassinated – his killer said to be paid by a pro-Belgian group. That event – on Oct. 13 – is now a public holiday.
The political party he formed, the Union for National Progress (UPRONA), exists today but power has been captured by an autocrat, Pierre Nkurunziza, whose iron-fisted rule has forced hundreds of thousands into exile.
In a new report by Amnesty International – “Conform or flee: Repression and insecurity pushing Burundians into Exile” – researchers assert that thousands of Burundian refugees are under mounting pressure to return to their country where they would be at risk of death, rape and torture.
Nearly all of the Burundian refugees and asylum seekers testified to the insecurity caused by the Imbonerakure, the youth league of the Burundi ruling party whose name means “those who see far” which has brutally killed and tortured people in the past.
These jarring witness testimonies counter President Nkurunziza’s recent declaration that “Burundi is at peace.”
Two months after the Amnesty report’s release, Nkurunziza visited Tanzania to convince 240,000 Burundian refugees to return home. His efforts appear to have swayed the Tanzanian president, according to Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations with Amnesty International USA.
“The Tanzania government has begun to close borders to Burundian refugees,” he said. “They are subtly or not so subtly making Burundian refugees aware that they will not be welcome anymore and that they cannot stay.”
At the same time, the United Nations has only received 12 percent of the $429 million requested aid for humanitarian assistance to be used for the 420,000 Burundian refugees in neighboring countries. The shortfall has meant refugees live in overcrowded camps and host countries have had to slash rations.
This month, the UN Human Rights Council is due to decide whether to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi after evidence of crimes against humanity was produced. Amnesty International has called on the UN body to renew the Commission’s mandate.