Burundian exiles accuse State operatives of targeting them

Pierre Nkurunziza at former president Jean Baptiste Bagaza’s funeral in Bujumbura mid this week. His government has been accused of hunting down opponents in exile, including those in Nairobi, and eliminating them. The government has denied the reports. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Burundians say government backed Imbonakure militia group has been targeting exiles.

  • About 220, 000 people fled the country, mainly to Tanzania, while almost 500 were killed.

  • The violence, triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial third term bid, became a subject of global talk.

On New Years’ eve, Jean De Dieu Kabura, a Burundian, was found unconscious on a road in Kawangware, Nairobi. He died on the way to a clinic.

Kabura’s half-naked body had stab wounds.

As a member of the Burundian opposition Mouvement Pour la Solidarite et le Developement (MSD), Kabura fled the country after an attempted coup last year. 

About 220, 000 people fled the country, mainly to Tanzania, while almost 500 were killed.

The violence, triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial third term bid, became a subject of global talk.

Once in Kenya, Kabura applied for refuge status and was given a special identification card as he waited for confirmation of his status in February 2017. He did not live to see the day.

The politician’s death is still shrouded in mystery. Yet a number of his compatriots say they are a target of elimination by people hired by the Bujumbura Government.

“We left our country to escape elimination. But we are not safe even in Nairobi,” a Burundi refugee who only identified himself as Celestine said.

He was a university student who fled to Kenya with his family in June 2015. Celestine and several of his compatriots were willing to talk to the Sunday Nation but only on condition of anonymity.

Celestine and his family are on the UNHCR’s list till April 2017 when his refuge status will either be confirmed or denied.

The Burundians say government backed Imbonakure militia group has been targeting exiles.

But these claims are difficult to confirm even by rights activists who have been notified.

“The stories have not been verified so we have not brought them to the attention of the Burundian authorities,” said Carina Tertsakian, a senior Researcher with the Human Rights Watch.

“These accounts however show the fears of the asylum-seekers. It illustrates the impact of the repression in Burundi.”

The UNHCR says there are 719 Burundian asylum seekers in Kenya, nearly half of the 1,697 that were in this category last year. They are in Dadaab, Kakuma and Nairobi.

“After being registered, they are documented as asylum-seekers.  We have been providing new arrivals who wish to go to the camps with transport and other aid,” Duke Mwancha, a spokesman for the UNHCR-Kenya said.

The waiting period for refugee status is usually two years though the UNHCR says it is working to reduce the period.

While awaiting confirmation, the asylum-seekers cannot find work. Many cannot take their children to school so they have approached a lobby — Coalition for Constitution Implementation — for help.

“We make them be heard by linking them to organisations that can push for their cause,” Mr Tom Oketch, the CCI Secretary-General said.

“We have given them a place to stay, though the problem is, some of their documents may expire.”

Yet food and shelter are not the asylum-seekers’ main fear. In fact they say they take turns to sleep just in case attackers strike.

“We came here because of what was happening back home. But now, were feel threatened. My colleagues have been attacked by people who speak our language,” another Burundian who gave his name as Bonventure said.

Bonventure, who has an eye problem and is recovering from a serious stomach infection, said he arrived in Nairobi last October after being threatened with death for backing MSD.

His appointment to have the refugee status confirmed is in November 2017.

Once confirmed as refugees, they will travel to Kakuma camp.

“Asylum seekers do not get the same assistance given to refugees. Those in Nairobi are supposed to be self-sufficient for that is what the law says. Unless individuals are not able to go to the camps for protection or because of special needs and cannot sustain themselves in Nairobi, UNHCR will assist them but on a limited scale,” Mr Mwancha said.

The Nation sent a set of questions to Burundian ambassador to Kenya Beatrice Kankindi to comment on reports of government-sponsored death squads.

There has been no response eight days later. However, Mr Willy Nyamitwe, Burundi’s communication and media advisor for President Nkurunziza has termed the reports as “fabrications and rumours.

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