Burundi: UNHCR disappointed at limited support for peace plan
The limited endorsement in Arusha Monday of a peace plan for Burundi is a considerable disappointment to UNHCR. We had hoped that all participants would sign an agreement, which would have represented an important first step towards peace and raised hopes for an eventual repatriation in safety and dignity of over 330,000 Burundi living in exile.
UNHCR has participated informally during the past two years in the Arusha talks, reminding participants of the humanitarian cost of the conflict and seeking to include refugee representatives in the peace process.
Until October 1999, UNHCR was operating small, voluntary repatriation convoys from western Tanzania to north-east Burundi. About 1,000 people per month were choosing to go home even as more refugees fled areas of southern Burundi. After the killing that month of two UN aid workers, the programme was suspended and fighting between rebels and the army spread to every eastern province.
The refugee population in Tanzania has grown steadily since. In both December and January, more than 20,000 Burundi sought asylum in western Tanzania. The numbers declined until June this year, but in following weeks UNHCR staff registered an alarming increase as negotiations continued in preparation for the planned 28 August signing. Through last Friday, 25 August, a total of 5,900 refugees had been registered for the month.
UNHCR will not organise repatriation to Burundi until the hostilities in the country cease, but we continue to prepare for that eventuality. Field staff believe that only a clear endorsement of a peace plan by all parties will send a sufficiently positive message to refugees.