MSF Denied Access to Rwandan Transit Camp in Burundi

Some 7,000 Rwandan refugees in the Songore transit camp in Burundi were forcibly repatriated to Rwanda on June 12 and June 13. MSF was denied access to the Songore camp by Burundian officials, and the camp was later disbanded. MSF has further concerns about an estimated 7,000 Burundian refugees in Rwanda who may be repatriated to Burundi. MSF teams are closely watching the Rwanda-Burundi border for any new developments.

June 12, 2005
MSF Denied Access to Rwandan Transit Camp in Burundi
Rwandans Being Declared 'Illegal Immigrants'

Bujumbura, 13 June 2005 – Medical staff from the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have been denied access to Songore, a transit camp for some 7,000 Rwandese that fled to Burundi earlier in May. The MSF clinic inside the camp is now guarded by Burundese military and medical staff cannot enter the premises, depriving the remaining population from medical care. Before being denied access, MSF was conducting more than 100 medical consultations a day in Songore.

This latest development comes at a moment when the population of Songore have been declared 'illegal immigrants' by both Rwanda and Burundi. MSF staff witnessed that as of last Sunday already thousands of refugees have been transported on trucks with military escort back to an unknown location, most likely back to their home country, Rwanda.

"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"

Almost 8,000 Rwandese fled their country in the past month. According to testimonies to MSF medical staff people fear arbitrary arrests and intimidation upon return in Rwanda. Since May 29 they were forced by the Burundian government to live in a transit camp, some 20 kilometers away from the border with Rwanda. Last Saturday both Rwanda and Burundi declared the whole group as 'illegal immigrants' despite their request for asylum in Burundi.