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Burundi: AHC guardedly optimistic on returns

Briefing notes

Burundi: AHC guardedly optimistic on returns

13 April 2004

Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane has returned from Burundi and Tanzania and says he is guardedly optimistic about what could be one of Africa's biggest repatriation movements this year. Mr. Morjane arrived back in Geneva on Thursday after a week-long trip to review options and possibilities for the 320,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania and to ensure that UNHCR was prepared for all eventualities for this group of refugees.

UNHCR believes that 2004 will be a year of significant repatriation in Africa, and that the Burundian refugees could be one of the main groups to go home. But this will depend on security and sustained and generous international attention in helping the country toward stability.

In Burundi, where he met with President Domitien Ndayizeye, other senior government officials, UN partners and returnees, Mr. Morjane was impressed with the improved security situation, momentum towards a political solution and level of international interest. He was encouraged by the prospect of a UN peacekeeping force in Burundi, and hoped that it would be provided with sufficient resources and authority to help the country on its road to stability. He especially hoped that, 10 years after the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, the international community would see the need to maintain sustained and generous support to Burundi.

Despite some hopeful developments, many issues in the often volatile country remain unresolved, warranting a prudent approach towards refugee return. An outbreak of fighting - now ended - near Bujumbura last week, illustrates the continuing problems. The pace and sustainability of return hinges on the immediate security situation, the emergence of a political consensus and absorption capacity in areas of return. Hence the critical role of the international community in maintaining security, facilitating political discussions and providing humanitarian and development assistance to foment and consolidate conditions conducive to large-scale and sustainable return.

The Assistant High Commissioner also reiterated UNHCR's appreciation for Tanzania's longstanding tradition of hospitality towards refugees, and for its prominent role in working towards solutions in Africa. For 2004, UNHCR has planned for the repatriation of 150,000 Burundian refugees. This is simply a planning figure.

In addition to the Burundian refugees, Tanzania also hosts some 150,000 Congolese refugees.