More routes to open for spontaneous Burundian returnees from Tanzania
BUJUMBURA, Burundi, August 21 (UNHCR) - Amid talks on a power-sharing deal in Burundi, the governments of Burundi and Tanzania have agreed to open more border crossing points to help Burundian refugees returning on their own to the eastern and southern parts of their homeland.
On Wednesday, representatives of the Burundian and Tanzanian governments met with the UN refugee agency in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, and signed a new agreement to open another three border crossing points between the two countries. This will bring to eight the total number of official exit/entry points for Burundian refugees returning from Tanzania.
The agreement came as Burundian President Domitien Ndayizeye held his first face-to-face talks with the leader of the country's biggest rebel group on Tuesday in South Africa. The talks are aimed at reaching a power-sharing deal ahead of a regional summit scheduled later in August.
"We hope the ongoing peace talks in South Africa will produce a durable peace needed for the restoration of conducive security conditions that will allow UNHCR to assist repatriation throughout Burundi," said Stefano Severe, the refugee agency's Representative in Burundi.
So far, UNHCR has limited its voluntary repatriation operations to relatively safe areas in northern Burundi. Registered returnees are transported from their camps in Tanzania to their communes of origin through the Kobero crossing point.
Wednesday's agreement will lead to the opening of official border crossings at Murusagamba-Gahumo (Cankuzo province), Mabamba-Gisuru (Ruyigi province) and Manyovu-Mugina (Makamba province) in eastern and southern Burundi between August and October this year.
The new crossing points will not directly affect UNHCR's assisted repatriation programme, which is concentrated in the north. They will, however, provide more direct routes for refugees returning on their own to eastern and southern Burundi.
Although UNHCR does not provide transport for these spontaneous returnees, it has been providing a basic start-up kit of food and relief items to those arriving in Ruyigi and Makamba province. The new agreement also proposed extending this assistance to Burundian returnees arriving on their own in neighbouring Rutana province.
The UN refugee agency started helping Burundian refugees home in March 2002. By the end of 2002, 53,283 had returned home, 31,421 of them with UNHCR assistance. By the end of July this year, another 48,000 had returned home voluntarily, bringing to more than 100,000 the total number of returnees in the last 17 months.