Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The international medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has claimed in a press release that its medical staff have been prevented from accessing their clinic inside the Songore transit camp. The camp holds almost 7,000 Rwandan asylum seekers, who were receiving more than 100 medical consultations a day from MSF staff. MSF claims that the camp is now guarded by the Burundese military.

“It’s unacceptable that our medical staff are denied access to our own health facility in Songore camp, denying medical care to the people in the camp. Also, by transporting these people back to Rwanda, MSF is not able to continue the medical care for those that were already under treatment. Some families have even been split apart because of family members being referred to a nearby hospital,” says Michiel Hofman, operational director for MSF.

“MSF is very concerned about what can be seen as a forced repatriation where the basic rights of an asylum seeker are being denied”, he added.

This action appears to be part of a wider crackdown on asylum seekers from Rwanda and Burundi. The UNHCR recently criticised the two governments after they issued a joint press release which declared that asylum seekers in each others countries did not have a legitimate claim and therefore were illegal immigrants rather than refugees.

The Rwandan asylum seekers began arriving in Burundi in March. Their main concern was the Gacaca courts, however the UNHCR is also reporting that some asylum seekers “… said they were fleeing threats, intimidation, persecution and rumours of revenge and bloodshed.”

The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has previously called for the asylum seekers to return home, stating that they will not be in danger.

“Gacaca is not intended to have all the people who appear at Gacaca arrested and put in prison. We want these people to show remorse and through that they will provide information and will allow people to forgive them and allow them to settle,” he said.

There are 8,000 Rwandan asylum seekers in Burundi, and nearly 7,000 Burundians in Rwanda, according to the UNHCR.