Burundi refugees who fled to neighbouring Rwanda in 2015 following political unrest have started returning home as diplomatic ties between the two East Africa neighbours warm up.

The first group of more than 500 people left Mahama camp in eastern Rwanda early Thursday, after they had tested negative for coronavirus.

The camp hosts more than 60,000 Burundian refugees.

“I am extremely happy to be going back home, I fled with three children and I am going back with five and their mother, we are all fine,” Emmanuel Bizimana.

A spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, Elise Villechalane, said more than 1,800 refugees in the camp have registered to go back home.

“We can’t take them all now because a transit camp to temporally lodge them in Burundi can only host around 500,” she said.

Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye had earlier this month accused Rwanda of “holding the refugees hostage” and said his country “will never have relations with a country that uses irony” in its relations.

But on Wednesday the army chiefs of the two countries met at the border in “efforts to resolve conflicts”.

UNHCR’s data released in June showed that more than 430,000 Burundians refugees live in the East Africa region.

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