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Transit site closes in Rwanda as last Burundians leave


Transit site closes in Rwanda as last Burundians leave

A year after it received the first of hundreds of refugees from Burundi, Gikonko transit site in southern Rwanda has closed as the refugees either opt to return home with UNHCR assistance or to move to a nearby camp.
9 September 2005
Burundian refugees at a water point at the Gikonko transit site in southern Rwanda before it closed.

KIGALI, Rwanda, September 9 (UNHCR) - A refugee site in southern Rwanda has closed after a year of hosting hundreds of Burundians who have now either streamed home or moved to another camp.

The last Burundian refugees left the Gikonko transit site in Mamba district of Butare province, southern Rwanda, on Wednesday. More than 1,200 repatriated to Burundi with UNHCR assistance, while 740 were transferred to Nyamure camp just to the north.

Only four refugees remain at the Gikonko site, where they are receiving medical treatment. They will be relocated to Nyamure camp upon their discharge from hospital. All food, firewood and plastic sheeting at the transit site will be moved to the camp, and the site will be dismantled shortly.

The Gikonko site hosted its first refugees in September 2004, when Burundians started fleeing amid fears of violence surrounding the election period. Initially scheduled for late 2004, the referendum and elections were delayed, causing more refugees to arrive in Rwanda early this year.

At its peak, Gikonko sheltered some 2,000 Burundian refugees. The site's facilities were run by the Rwandan Ministry for Local Administration, with support from UNHCR. The World Food Programme provided food, while UNICEF ran a health and nutrition centre and supported operations in the areas of water and sanitation. Other organisations like Food for the Hungry International provided household supplies for the refugees.

Since the start of voluntary repatriation on June 30 this year, more than 3,100 Burundian refugees have returned home from Rwanda. They travelled from Gikongoro, Kigeme and Nyamure camps to Songore transit centre in northern Burundi. There, they received three months of WFP rations, and basic supplies like plastic sheeting, buckets, pots, hoes and soap. Most of them spent a night in the Songore transit centre before being transported to their areas of origin, mostly in the northern Kirundo province.

UNHCR runs a monitoring programme in Burundi to ensure the well-being and integration of the returnees. It works with the Burundian government and other partners to support reintegration programmes that focus on rehabilitating schools and health centres, as well as income-generating activities.

An estimated 4,000 Burundian refugees remain in Rwanda.

By Volker Schimmel
UNHCR Rwanda