A Burundian minister has travelled to Uganda to convince some 33,793 Burundians who fled the current crisis that all the conditions are met for them return to their homes in secure conditions.
Since Burundi's 19-months crisis triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a controversial third term began, some 2,000 people are reported to have been killed and thousands arbitrarily imprisoned, as the Burundian government brutally crushed any form of dissent.
The Burundian Minister of the Interior and Patriotic Training, Pascal Barandagiye, on Tuesday (14 February) travelled to Uganda to speak to refugees living in the country to convince them to go back to their homeland.
Barandagiye, who was in the Ugandan capital Kampala with a team of Burundian actors in charge of the repatriation and resettlement of refugees, said he expected resistance from his fellows, but sought to be reassuring.
"These people who are in the camps here in Nakivale are not being prosecuted by the justice system. They have done nothing wrong in Burundi. So these are people who have fled fear. So, we are here to give them the guarantees that will enable them to return," the minister told press.
The Ugandan government, which is struggling to cope with a huge influx of refugees fleeing conflict in east Africa and keep up with the influx of refugees who have recently come from Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), assured that repatriation will be on a voluntary basis and that there is no formal deadline for the return of refugees.
The Ugandan minister for refugees, Hilary Onek, meanwhile, warned refugees who may want to remain in Uganda: "Burundi is in the process of restoring peace and soon negotiations will be concluded and we count on all refugees to return home afterwards.
"Those who want to stay in Uganda, these refugees, we will have to direct them to immigration [services]. They will be given a visa to stay here for three months and if their visa is expired we will ask them nicely to return," RFI quoted Onek as saying.
The Burundian delegation is expected to visit Nakivale refugee camp. Kampala warned it would not give Burundian opposition the permission to visit the camp. The Burundian government is also planning a similar visit to Tanzania.
As at 13 February, there were 380,344 Burundian refugees living in Tanzania (223,915), Rwanda (84,444), DRC (32,650), Kenya (2,598), Zambia (1,798), Malawi (906), Mozambique (240), and Uganda, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).