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Burundian Refugees – Rwanda   Leave a comment


Alex Niyungeko, 41, holds his son Samuel Rai,3, while seated with his wife, children and brother during a memorial service for his father.

Journalist Alex Niyungeko, 41, is one of tens of thousands of displaced Burundians living in Rwanda. His secretive departure from Burundi, he stated, was fueled by police attacks on his family. In January Mr. Niyungeko’s father, Ntirubuza Tharcisse, 79, died from natural causes in Burundi, and he was unable to return for the funeral; he held a memorial service in Kigali, Rwanda, and the church was packed with Burundian refugees.


Mr. Niyungeko is the chairman of the Union of Journalists of Burundi. In that capacity he ran afoul of the chief of police (Domitien Niyonkuru) for the capital of Bujumbura. Since April 2015, when the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced plans to run for a third term in office, sparking weeks of street protests by the opposition who said his bid was unconstitutional, protests have been banned. At the time Mr. Niyungeko said, “I told journalists to do their professional work and report on the protests.”


The next day the office of his union was raided by the police and closed. He stated, “I was roughly handled and several of my colleagues were beaten. On the scene I confronted the chief of police and asked him how could you as an educated man close our office? What crimes have we committed?” In describing the exchange Mr. Niyungeko conveyed what followed: “The chief became angry and said I have no explanation – I only have an order and you have humiliated me in front of my men.” Several of Mr. Niyungeko’s contacts within the police department told him that he would be killed. Nevertheless, he issued a public statement condemning the closing of his union’s office. He secured his family (wife and three children) at a location away from their home and went separately into hiding.


The police discovered the location of his family and twice attacked them with tear gas grenades, according to Mr. Niyungeko. After the second attack he put them on a flight to Rwanda. He feared it wasn’t possible for him to leave via the airport – because his name was on a watch list – so with the help of friends he crossed illegally into Rwanda via vehicle.






Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Posted January 30, 2016 by documentedAwareness in Photojournalism

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