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Burundian refugee returns from Tanzania hit 300,000 mark

Briefing notes

Burundian refugee returns from Tanzania hit 300,000 mark

1 April 2008

UNHCR's repatriation operation for Burundian refugees in Tanzania which began in 2002 reached the 300,000 mark in March. In addition, tens of thousands of Burundian refugees have also returned home on their own - mainly from villages in the north-western Tanzania - bringing the total number of refugees returning to Burundi to 389,000. At the peak of the crisis, which started in the early 1990s, nearly half a million Burundians fled violence in their country and found shelter in neighbouring Tanzania.

The 300,000 mark is a significant milestone in our efforts to find lasting solutions for long-term refugee situations on the African continent.

The refugee population in the camps in north-western Tanzania in March fell below the 200,000 mark for the first time in 15 years.

The repatriation operations from the camps in Tanzania are continuing at good pace and several initiatives have helped returnees restart their lives back home. We introduced cash grants for returnees last July, and in August together with the World Food Programme increased the return food ration to six months from three months.

As the camp-based refugee population continues to decrease, we are together with Tanzanian authorities moving towards consolidation the existing refugee camps. In 2007, the number of camps was reduced from 11 to five and the same process is expected to continue this year. Currently, 102,000 Burundian and 96,000 Congolese refugees remain in five camps in the north-western Tanzania.

We plan to step up joint efforts together with the other UN agencies this year to ensure a smooth transition from humanitarian assistance to sustainable development in north-western Tanzania. The joint programme, which also benefits local communities, will focus on income generation, energy, environment and social services. This is part of the UN reform initiative "Delivering as One". Tanzania is one of eight countries where this reform is being piloted.

In addition to the remaining camp-based refugees, UNHCR together with Tanzania, is pursuing comprehensive solutions for 218,000 Burundians refugees who fled their country in 1972 and live in three self-sufficient settlements, and for 2,000 Somali Bantus living in Chogo Settlement in Tanga Region.

Also, in January this year, we marked 50,000 returns to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo since the start of the repatriation operation in 2005.