Burundian Teens Told Parents They Might Not Return Home After U.S. Robotics Competition

  • VOA News

    July 27, 2017 08:15

    Instructors of the six Burundian teens who disappeared last week in Washington say the kids' parents do not seem concerned about their disappearance, and likely knew the teens would not come back to Burundi.

    The parents have not made any public statements about the students, who apparently ran away on July 18 while in the U.S. capital for an international robotics competition. Two of the students were reported Friday to have entered Canada, while the whereabouts of the other four are unclear.

    The principal of Iteletique High School, which two of the missing students attended, says the teens gave their parents some advance warning about their plans. "Talking with parents, they told us that once the kids arrived there, they [the kids] told them they may not come back," Esperence Niyonzima told a reporter for VOA’s Central Africa Service in Bujumbura.

    "It seems the parents are not worried, they were not worried for the kids' unknown whereabouts," she said. Asked why the kids ran away while in Washington, she said, "I think they wanted better opportunities than they could get in Burundi."

    The youth leader of the Burundian team, Canesius Bindaba, returned to Burundi late Friday after being questioned by police in Washington. He told VOA's Central Africa Service he was not expecting the teens to disappear, and was disappointed that they did.

    "They never showed any sign that would lead me to believe that they actually had concrete plans to stay there," he said. "They've made a decision which they had deliberated on without my knowledge, and in which I could not do much about. It was unfortunate." 

    Burundi's robotics team is seen in this still image from video shot by Auriane Itangishaka of VOA's Central Africa Service at the the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge in Washington on July 19, 2017.

    He said he hasn't spoken to his fellow students' parents, but believes they are unconcerned since they have not tried to reach out to him. "There were some who said, 'Don't worry, if they [the students] made that decision, perhaps they realized living there was the life they wanted. This gave me a bit of relief because they [police] wanted to be sure they [the kids] were not kidnapped or lost."

    Burundi, a poor, landlocked African country, is still recovering from a 13-year civil war that ended in 2006. More recently, the country experienced months of political unrest after President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for and won a controversial third term in 2015. More than 400,000 Burundians fled to neighboring countries in the wake of protests and violence that killed hundreds of people.

    But both Bindaba and Niyonzima said insecurity was not a reason for the teens to flee. "It should be known that as we speak I am in Burundi with my family. I passed through the airport with no hassle, there is peace in the country," said Bindaba. "They shouldn't say that they fear for their security," said Niyonzima. "Their safety was not in jeopardy."

    Both instructors said they hope the teens return to Burundi and teach other students about robotics. "If they are found, it would be [good] so that they can help other kids, because they've learned so much," said Bindaba.

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