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Burundi accuses UN of inflating refugee numbers

Burundi has accused the United Nations of “deliberately fabricating” figures of Burundian refugees.

Interior assistant minister Terence Ntahiraja claimed Wednesday that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refuses to recognise that some Burundians have returned home and was using inflated refugee numbers to seek aid.

Mr Ntahiraja was reacting to Tuesday’s UNHCR $391 million appeal to support some 430,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

In its 2018 Burundi refugee response plan, UNHCR said the situation “seems at risk of being forgotten” only receiving 21 per cent of the required funds.

“The UNHCR is claiming that over 430,000 Burundian refugees went into exile since 2015 and live in refugee camps. The figure is wrong because over 200,000 of them have already returned home,” said Mr Ntahiraja.

He added that some Burundians who fled the country were “not refugees” but included economic and religion migrants, criminals, and self-exiled politicians.

But the UNHCR notes that only “a relatively small number of refugees have been choosing to return to Burundi” and that it expects “up to 54,000 refugees may return to Burundi from Tanzania in 2018.”

The UN agency said it anticipates an increase of refugee numbers by over 50,000 this year “escaping human rights abuses, continued political uncertainty and the related humanitarian crisis.”

UNHCR notes that the increase will be as a result of new arrivals and population growth in the settlement camps.

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