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New agreement paves way for larger-scale returns from Tanzania to Burundi

New agreement paves way for larger-scale returns from Tanzania to Burundi

The governments of Burundi, Tanzania, and UNHCR have signed an agreement to promote repatriation among more than 300,000 Burundian refugees still living in Tanzania's camps.
22 January 2004
Coming home to roost? A Burundian refugee in Mkugwa camp in western Tanzania's Kibondo area.

ARUSHA, Tanzania, Jan 22 (UNHCR) - Burundian, Tanzanian and UNHCR officials on Wednesday signed a landmark repatriation agreement, paving the way for a larger-scale return of Burundian refugees from exile in Tanzania.

Under the agreement, the UN refugee agency will gradually move from helping those going back with logistical arrangements to actually promoting returns. The tripartite meeting also agreed on a series of measures to make return movements more efficient and less uncomfortable for refugees. These measures include allowing the movement of trucks across the border and simplified customs and immigration procedures.

Since starting its assisted voluntary repatriation operation in March 2002, UNHCR has focused on facilitating returns to safer areas in northern and central Burundi. More than 68,000 Burundian refugees have returned from Tanzania since then. Another 45,000 went home on their own in 2003.

Now that security has improved in some parts of the country, the refugee agency's planned expansion to the east and south will mean that some of the over 300,000 Burundian refugees still living in Tanzania's camps could soon be able to go home with UNHCR assistance.

The agreement Wednesday coincided with a deployment in Burundi of the UNHCR emergency team that will prepare the repatriation movements. The team arrived in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, on Wednesday in a first step to open offices in several of the country's eastern and southern provinces bordering Tanzania. This comes amid improved security in parts of Burundi following the signing of a cease-fire deal and a power-sharing agreement between the transitional government in Bujumbura and the FDD rebel group in late 2003.

UNHCR officials hailed the repatriation agreement as a boost for Burundian returns but warned that refugees are returning to a country devastated by a decade-long war. "The majority return to find their houses in ruins, many lack land to cultivate. Basic services, health education water are lacking," said Zobida Hassim-Ashagrie, who led UNHCR's delegation to the Arusha meeting.

Hassim-Ashagrie said the situation in Burundi was further complicated by the presence of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and tens of thousands of people under arms.