New border crossing opens for return of Burundi refugees from Tanzania
DAR-ES-SALAAM, Tanzania Jan 28 (UNHCR) - A new border crossing point to bring Burundi refugees home from camps in Tanzania opened this morning for a first trial convoy of 983 returning refugees, paving the way for more facilitated returns to previously inaccessible areas of Burundi.
The new border opening follows an agreement between Burundi, Tanzania and UNHCR at last week's Tripartite Commission meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, amid improved security in Burundi's eastern Ruyigi province. Until today, UNHCR had been facilitating returns of Burundi refugees mainly to northern and central Burundi.
The convoy of 22 trucks left Kibondo district in Tanzania for Ruyigi province in Burundi through the Mabamba-Gisuru crossing point. The 983 returnees had been staying in Nduta, Karago and Mtendeli camps in Kibondo district. UNHCR's Deputy Director for Africa, Zobida Hassim-Ashagrie, accompanied the convoy.
Some 60,000 refugees in Kibondo come from Ruyigi, and UNHCR expects around half of them to return home this year.
Two other border crossing points have been used so far for the repatriation. Returns to Muyinga and neighbouring provinces in the north arrive in Burundi via the Kobero crossing point. Those from Cankuzo province in the east enter through Murusugamba. If security continues to improve, a fourth crossing point would open later this year to Makamba province in the south.
UNHCR dispatched an emergency team to Burundi on Jan. 20 to look into opening new offices in Ruyigi and Makamba provinces and expanding the agency's presence in Muyinga. The deployment comes amid improved security in parts of Burundi after the signing of a cease-fire deal and a power-sharing agreement last year between the transitional government in Bujumbura and the rebel Forces for the Defence of Democracy. The refugee agency closed its office in Ruyigi and reduced its presence in Muyinga in 2002 due to insecurity.
Over 300,000 Burundian refugees still live in Tanzania's camps. Since UNHCR started facilitating voluntary repatriation to Burundi in 2002, over 70,000 refugees have returned with UNHCR's help. The returnees receive basic assistance including food, jerry cans, blankets and plastic sheeting for shelter. Another 45,000 refugees returned to Burundi on their own in 2003.