The 14 men and two women say they fled Rwanda on June 3, ending weeks of what they say was harassment by officials who targeted them for dodging a “political awareness program” in Butare, a town 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the capital.
Two of the fleeing students said in interviews that they resisted going there because most of their friends who went there never came back. They said their classmates were forced to cross the border and fight alongside M23, one of many rebel groups operating in Congo’s troubled North Kivu province.
“We told them that we are too young to join M23 but they did not listen,” said Moses Mugisha, 21. “They threatened us. We can’t go back to Rwanda. We are very scared.”
The 16 who refused to go to the “Ingando” program say their high school examination results were withheld by authorities as a result. Under Ingando, thousands of Rwandan students take part each year in what the government calls solidarity camps, locations across the country where they are lectured on what it means to be Rwandan.
Staff members at a few orphanages reported the RDF pressured some of their young men to join the military during mandatory “ingando” civic and military training camps held after secondary school graduation.