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Teenagers celebrate New Year in Burundi after returning home from Rwanda


Teenagers celebrate New Year in Burundi after returning home from Rwanda

Two teenage Burundian refugees are celebrating the New Year back home in Burundi with their families after returning from half a year unaccompanied in exile in Rwanda.
3 January 2006
Former teenage refugee Cesarie, (centre in pink) is welcomed back home to Burundi by her relatives and friends.

GISANZE, Burundi, 3 January (UNHCR) - For 16-year-old Cesarie and 15-year-old Adolphe, the New Year has already started well: the brave Burundian teenagers are back at home in the welcoming arms of their families after spending half a year in exile on their own.

At the end of December, they both went home on a UNHCR convoy from Nyamure camp in Butare province in Rwanda - where they lived for the last few months - to join their parents and siblings in Burundi.

"I really miss my family and I want to be with them again," Cesarie said shyly, the day before leaving Rwanda. The convoy that took her home is organized by the UN refugee agency leaving Nyamure refugee camp every Tuesday. In addition to taking home 13 families, this particular convoy took home seven unaccompanied children besides Cesarie and Adolphe.

"Back at home I heard that the situation seems quiet," said Cesarie, explaining her decision to go back. "Other Burundian refugees who left Nyamure did not come back to Rwanda, which is a good signal. I am not afraid any more and I want to be with my family."

Between January and November 2005, UNHCR took about 4,570 Burundian refugees home from Rwanda. Although refugees have fled Burundi at various times over the last three decades, most of the Nyamure refugees only came to Rwanda recently. Most of them fled from the north of Burundi because of fighting between the Burundian army and the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL).

Ironically, Burundian authorities had earlier moved both Cesarie's and Adolphe's families - unrelated to each other - to special sites to avoid attacks by the FNL rebels. The new sites have become villages where people sleep, venturing out to their old land in the daytime to farm. But even in their new villages, they do not always feel safe.

"We were afraid of rumours in the village that the militia would come to kill people," Cesarie said, explaining her decision to flee Gisanze village in Muyinga province last May.

When her mother decided to stay behind, Cesarie left with her older sister and a few young neighbours. "I did not want to tell my mum I was leaving as I knew she would not let me go to Rwanda. I did it secretly."

When her older sister changed her mind en route, Cesarie walked three days alone through a forest and crossed the border to Gikonko camp in Rwanda's Butare province. She was later transferred to Nyamure camp.

Adolphe is 15 years old but he looks much younger, probably due to a poor diet of beans, maize and flour. Like Cesarie, he left his home in Kiremba (in Burundi's Muyinga province) last July and walked into neighbouring Rwanda.

"I head rumours in my village about the start of a new war in Burundi, and I thought was safer to leave the country," he said. "All the money I had in my pocket was 1,000 Burundian Francs [about $1.00] that I earned working on a farm where the owner used to pay me 350 BF [about 35 cents U.S.] per day."

Far from home and with little to do, the two teenagers found life in the refugee camp in Rwanda difficult, particularly because no education was available in Nyamure camp.

The teenagers live in communal tents, so they don't even have much housework to fill their time. Thinking about his mother, three sisters and two brothers back home finally convinced Adolphe to end his exile.

"The security situation in Burundi is not bad now," he added, "but I am afraid of not having enough food at home as the land is not good any more for farming." In the event, back in his home village of Kiremba, his teenage friends celebrated his homecoming with many hugs and laughs.

For Cesarie, the return home brings the chance to continue her secondary schooling. Sadly, she found her widowed mother, Melanie, in poor health, without enough money to go for medical treatment.

Still, 50-year-old Melanie's eyes brightened at the arrival of her cheerful daughter. Cesarie hugged and kissed her baby nephew, who began wailing, frightened by the exited crowds.

Amidst the happy hubbub, Melanie had some serious words for Cesarie. "It's safe here now. Please stay at home with your family from now on," she pleaded.

By Beatriz Gonzalez
On the convoy from Rwanda to Burundi