Date: Thu, 9 Apr 98 14:04:55 CDT
Refoulement / Fear of refoulement / Fear for safety
Amnesty International Urgent Action Bulletin, AI Index: AFR 02/03/98, UA 112/98, 9 April 1998
At least 200 Burundian and around 140 Rwandese refugees could be in serious danger following their refoulement from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which began on 5 April 1998. Thousands of refugees who remain in the DRC may also be at risk of being forcibly expelled to Burundi or Rwanda where their lives may be at risk.
The refoulement operation was carried out by soldiers of the Congolese national army, the Alliance des forces democratiques pour la liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL), Alliance for Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, who commandeered trucks from humanitarian organizations to transport the refugees to the border.
Most of the refouled Burundian refugees had reportedly come to the DRC after fleeing the bordering Burundian provinces of Bubanza, Cibitoke and Bujumbura rural since the beginning of 1998. The conflict in Burundi, between the Tutsi-dominated security forces and predominantly Hutu armed groups, is currently concentrated mainly in the eastern part of the country including these provinces. The Burundi government has apparently stated that the refugees refouled from the DRC should return to their places of origin in Burundi.
The Rwandese refugees, who were refouled from the area north of Uvira in eastern DRC, were reported to have been taken to a transit camp in southern Rwanda. Around 40 Rwandese refugees and four Congolese nationals who were also expelled to Burundi have since been returned to DRC. Reports indicate that refugees in the DRC are still being moved on foot by Congolese soldiers towards the Burundian border.
Along with other unarmed civilians, returning Burundian refugees risk being deliberately and arbitrarily killed by Burundian government forces or armed opposition groups, often in reprisal for alleged activities or presence of Hutu dominated armed groups. While the conflict in Burundi is currently concentrated in the east, human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and "disappearances" committed by the security forces occur routinely throughout the country including in areas to which returnees may be forced to go.
The human rights situation in Rwanda continues to deteriorate. Thousands of unarmed civilians have been killed since the beginning of 1997, some by soldiers of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA), others by armed opposition groups. Many refugees who have been forcibly returned from neighbouring countries have become victims of extrajudicial executions or disappearances.
In early November 1997 at least 2,500 Burundian and Rwandese refugees were refouled from eastern DRC to Burundi and Rwanda in a concerted military operation involving Congolese, Burundian and reportedly Rwandese soldiers who, alongside local Congolese authorities, systematically searched out Burundi and Rwandese refugees in villages around Uvira in eastern DRC. The refugees were apparently accused of belonging to the DRC armed group Mayi Mayi, or the Rwandese interahamwe militia, and told they had to leave.