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.




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

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

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Africa is the continent most affected by the tragedy of forced displacement. While millions of refugees were able to return to Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda and South Sudan over the last 15 years, the numbers of internally displaced people continued to grow. At the beginning of 2009, in addition to some 2.3 million refugees, an estimated 11.6 million people were internally displaced by conflict in Africa.

To address forced displacement on the continent, the African Union is organizing a special summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced people from October 19-23 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Heads of state and government will look at the challenges and at ways to find solutions to forced displacement. They are also expected to adopt a Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa, which would be the first legally binding instrument on internal displacement with a continental scope. This photo gallery looks at some of the forcibly displaced around Africa, many of whom are helped by UNHCR.

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek Safety

He used to fix broken bicycles in Burundi, but as political troubles and killings mounted Nestor Kamza decided to flee. In search of safety he and his family walked non-stop for 24-hours until they reached Tanzania. His family is among more than 100,000 people who have fled from political violence in Burundi and arrived in the Nyarugusu camp which has almost tripled in size. To alleviate overcrowding in the camp, UNHCR and its partners have planned to open three new camps and have started moving tens of thousands of Burundian refugees to a new, less congested, home
Tanzania: Setting Sail to SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Setting Sail to Safety

More than 60,000 Burundian refugees have arrived in Tanzania since the beginning of May. On the shores of Lake Tanganyika, hundreds board a ferry to Kigoma, Tanzania, before continuing to Nyaragusu camp.
Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.