New agreement paves way home for Burundians from Rwanda
KIGALI, Rwanda, August 19 (UNHCR) - Thousands of Burundian refugees could be on their way home under a tripartite agreement on voluntary repatriation from Rwanda signed between the two governments and the UN refugee agency yesterday.
The agreement was signed in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, providing an official framework for a repatriation operation that started at the end of June. The sixth organised convoy left from Rwanda to Burundi on Wednesday, bringing the total number of organised returns to 2,155 so far.
"This tripartite agreement is a result of the political will of both the governments of Rwanda and Burundi to ensure a safe and dignified voluntary return for the thousands of Burundian refugees living in Rwanda," said UNHCR's Representative in Kigali, Panos Moumtzis.
"The voluntary repatriation of thousands of Burundian refugees from Rwanda and Tanzania on a weekly basis is a vote of confidence given by the Burundian refugees to the positive political developments that have taken place in Burundi," he added, noting that voluntary repatriation is UNHCR's preferred solution for the refugee situation.
"There is peace in Burundi," said Kezimana, a refugee in Butare, southern Rwanda. "It's time to go back home." His friend Niyongabo added, "I want to go home and find my property. I have some land and a house. I want to go back and cultivate."
Returning refugees travel from the Rwandan camps of Gikongoro, Kigeme and Nyamure to the transit centre of Songore in northern Burundi. There, they receive three months of World Food Programme rations, and basic supplies like plastic sheeting, buckets, pots, hoes and soap. Most of the returnees spend one night in the Songore transit centre before being transported to their home village. Most of them originate from Kirundo province in the north.
UNHCR runs a monitoring programme in Burundi to ensure the well-being and integration of the returnees. Together with the Burundian government and other partners, the refugee agency also supports reintegration programmes that focus on rehabilitating schools and health centres, as well as income-generating activities.
Some 5,000 Burundian refugees remain in Rwanda's Butare province, many of whom have already signed up for repatriation. UNHCR is currently sensitising them on their rights and on conditions at home, and registering those who wish to return. Weekly convoys are expected bring 500 to 700 refugees home per trip.
"We were ready for the trucks at 5 am," said a refugee named Habimana about this week's return convoy. "Our children want to go to school and we want to cultivate."
Another potential returnee, Ndayishimiye Jeannine, fretted, "My child has measles and I cannot travel today. I was ready but the doctor said no. I will return home in the next convoy."