UNHCR explores plans to expand in Burundi

News Stories, 20 January 2004

© UNHCR/L.Taylor
Burundian refugees at a food distribution in Mtabila camp, western Tanzania &; a region that hosts more than 300,000 Burundian refugees in camps.

GENEVA, Jan 20 (UNHCR) Hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees in Tanzania could go home soon as the UN refugee agency pursues plans to expand facilitated returns to previously inaccessible areas in Burundi.

A UNHCR emergency team today left the agency's headquarters in Geneva for Burundi in a first step to open offices in several of the country's eastern and southern provinces bordering Tanzania. This comes amid improved security in parts of Burundi after the signing of a cease-fire deal and a power-sharing agreement between the transitional government in Bujumbura and the FDD rebel group in late 2003.

Because of improvements in the security situation, the UN has eased some restrictions on travel and presence in three areas of Burundi Makamba, Bururi-Ville and Rutana bringing these three areas in line with much of the rest of the country and making them more accessible by UN staff.

The UNHCR mission, consisting of a head of operations, a finance and operations officer and a telecoms/information technology officer, will join a field staff safety adviser and travel to areas bordering Tanzania to assess the situation, review the needs on the ground and prepare for the possible deployment of additional staff.

Security permitting, UNHCR would like to open new offices in Ruyigi along the central stretch of the border and Makamba in the south, as well as to expand its presence in Muyinga in the north. The refugee agency closed its office in Ruyigi and reduced its presence in Muyinga in 2002 due to insecurity. It has not had a presence in Makamba for decades.

Since starting its assisted voluntary repatriation operation in March 2002, UNHCR has focused on facilitating returns to safer areas in northern and central Burundi. Now that security has improved in some parts of the country, the refugee agency's planned expansion to the east and south will mean that some of the over 300,000 Burundian refugees still living in Tanzania's camps could soon be able to go home with UNHCR assistance.

On Wednesday, the Tripartite Commission on the Voluntary Repatriation of Burundian Refugees is scheduled to meet in Arusha, Tanzania, to review the ongoing return programme between Burundi and Tanzania. Representatives from UNHCR and the two governments hope to agree on plans to activate additional border crossing points for repatriation, the number of weekly return convoys, as well as plans to rehabilitate roads and infrastructure on both sides of the border.

More than 68,000 Burundian refugees have returned from Tanzania since the start of UNHCR-assisted repatriation in March 2002. Another 45,000 went home on their own in 2003.

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Finding a Home on Ancestral Land

Somali Bantu refugees gaining citizenship in Tanzania

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

Since the end of October more than 26,000 Burundian former refugees have been assisted by UNHCR and its partners to return home from the Mtabila camp in northwest Tanzania. The operation is organized with the Government of Tanzania to help some 35,500 Burundian former refugees go back to Burundi by the end of 2012, when the Mtabila camp officially closes.

Refugee status for most Burundians in Tanzania formally ended in August following individual interviews to assess remaining protection needs. A total of 2,715 people will continue to be hosted as refugees in Tanzania, while the rest, the last of a population of refugees who left Burundi some 20 years ago, must return home. This is not an easy move after having spent most of your life -- and sometimes all of it -- in exile.

While awaiting their turn to join one of the daily convoys to bring them home, Burundian former refugees are preparing themselves for a fresh start…

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

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Tanzania: Road to CitizenshipPlay video

Tanzania: Road to Citizenship

In 2007, UNHCR and the government of Tanzania gave him a choice: return home or become Tanzanian. It was an easy decision for Michael Sheltieri Namoya.
Tanzania: Bantu HomecomingPlay video

Tanzania: Bantu Homecoming

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