After 20 years, more than 1,000 Burundians returning home every day

News Stories, 14 November 2012

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
A returnee bus crosses the border from Tanzania into Burundi. The convoys are carrying over 1,000 Burundians per day as they make the most of their last chance to get help returning home after losing their refugee status in Tanzania.

MABANDA TRANSIT CENTRE, Burundi, November 14 (UNHCR) More than 1,000 Burundians are returning to their homeland almost every day with the help of the UN refugee agency and its partners, after losing their refugee status in Tanzania.

Taking advantage of a last opportunity for assistance in making the journey, close to 8,000 former refugees have returned from Mtabila refugee camp in Tanzania since October 31 on convoys organized by UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other partners. The first convoy carried only 356 people, but more are signing up every day.

"We see more and more people coming forward and the pace of the convoys is picking up," said Chansa Kapaya, UNHCR's representative in Tanzania. "Co-operation between the Tanzanian government and humanitarian agencies on issues related to the orderly return continues to be excellent."

International agencies stepped forward to help the former refugees go home after the government of Tanzania found that some 37,500 Burundians living in the country were no longer refugees and needed to leave Tanzania by the end of the year. A further 2,715 are being allowed to remain in the country as refugees.

The decision followed interviews with some 40,000 Burundian refugees conducted by panels made up of UNHCR staff and Tanzanian government officials over 11 months, giving consideration to developments in Burundi since they fled nearly 20 years ago.

When the weather is bad, the bus journey from Mtabila can take as long as four hours instead of two because rain has made some roads impassable. Once inside Burundi, returnees are given a hot meal at one of three UNHCR transit centres in Makamba province. They also spend the night there before continuing to their home areas.

Those who need medical care receive it and those with specific needs children alone, pregnant women, blind people or very old people get special attention.

"We thank God who led us here," said a man named Athanase, standing in this transit centre 20 kilometres from the border, with his wife and seven children, ranging in age from one to 18 years. He said they were looking forward to rebuilding their lives, even though they would have preferred to remain in Tanzania.

All returnees are registered by UNHCR and receive a month's food ration as well as a small cash grant. They also receive a number of useful household items, such as sleeping mats, mosquito nets, buckets, jerry cans, some clothing and sanitary materials. As well, they begin the process of getting a vital government ID card.

By the next morning, most are on their way back, with the help of UNHCR and partners, to where they originally came from. Trucks take them and their possessions to their hometowns (called communes in Burundi) -- 76 communes in 17 provinces, although three communes are the main destinations.

Some of the returnees who had fled civil strife in the 1990s seemed genuinely surprised to find a country at peace, apparently believing Burundi was still at war.

Since April 2002, UNHCR has supported the government of Burundi to reintegrate more than half a million returning refugees helping them reclaim their land, settle land disputes, build homes and start businesses.

"We have helped returnees to resume their normal life," said Catherine Huck, UNHCR's representative in Burundi. "UNHCR intends to continue working closely with the government and development organizations to make sure that this latest group of returnees can restart their lives and contribute to stability in Burundi."

By Kitty McKinsey at Mabanda Transit Centre, Burundi

Consolidated Inter-Agency information note on the closure of the Mtabila camp in the United Republic of Tanzania and the return to Burundi of the former refugees. 15 October 2012 31 March 2013




Finding a Home on Ancestral Land

Somali Bantu refugees gaining citizenship in Tanzania

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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

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.
Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee CampPlay video

Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee Camp

Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres completed a visit to Kenya and Somalia where he met with the Presidents of the two countries, as well as Somali refugees and returnees.
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.