At least 400 Burundian refugees living in Rwanda have been expelled after they were suspected of espionage, according to Africa News.
A government official from Bugabira District where the refugees had settled told Reuters that the refugees were evicted on Thursday and Friday, bringing the number of Burundian refugees expelled from Rwanda to about 1,700.
“We were accused of being envoys of Burundi government and sent there to spy on Rwanda,” one of the expelled refugees told Reuters.
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Last week’s eviction comes less than a month after more than 1,300 Burundians were repatriated from Rwanda.
The expulsions, which have further soured relations between the two countries, are seen as a reaction to recent claims that Rwanda is recruiting militants to destabilize the embattled government of Burundi.
President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government has consistently accused Rwanda of interfering in the ongoing civil unrest in Burundi, which has claimed more than 400 lives and left thousands displaced.
The United Nations has also accused Rwanda of destabilizing its neighbor, but Rwandan officials have consistently denied the claims, saying the only refugees being deported are those who have been in the country illegally.
East Africa’s Bad Neighbors
Despite a shared border, ethnic formation and colonial experience, Rwanda and Burundi have often appeared to be poles apart, with numerous counter-accusations and civil tensions straining their relationship.
This animosity has been exacerbated by the fact that Rwanda has been critical of President Nkurunziza’s contentious decision to run for a third term in office.
Last year, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda publicly criticized his Burundian counterpart asking him to reconsider his decision to avoid a repeat of the devastating genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
“They should have learned the lesson of our history,” Kagame said.
In response, Burundi has accused Rwanda of recruiting Burundian refugees into armed rebel groups with the intention of using them to overthrow the embattled President Nkurunziza.
This came after Refugees International published a report claiming to have evidence of Burundian refugees in Rwanda being recruited into an armed militia group that aims to recruit about 5,000 fighters to do battle in Burundi.
In February this year, Rwandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it will be relocating Burundian refugees to third countries, citing growing risks to its national security and the Burundian stalemate and misunderstanding in their foreign relations.
This also comes at a time when Kenya, another member of the East African community, is preparing to repatriate close to 400,000 refugees to war-torn Somalia over what officials claim to be threat to national security.