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Assisted returns to Burundi from Tanzania pass 10,000

Assisted returns to Burundi from Tanzania pass 10,000

Repatriation is going smoothly; UNHCR sticks to its policy of facilitating returns only to northern and central Burundi.
28 May 2002
Burundian refugees in Tanzania's Kasulu camp have started joining the convoys home.

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, May 28 (UNHCR) - Two months after the start of UNHCR's assisted repatriation programme from Tanzania, more than 10,000 Burundian refugees have returned home, with many more saying they want to return under the UNHCR-facilitated initiative.

On Tuesday, 474 Burundian refugees were repatriated, bringing the total number of assisted returns since March 28 to 10,900. Eight hundred more are scheduled to return on Thursday with UNHCR's twice-weekly convoys. Another 71,000 more have registered to return from Tanzania.

So far, most of the returnees have come from Ngara camp. But since the end of April, refugees from Kibondo and Kasulu camps have also been returning home. All UNHCR-facilitated returns take place through the Kobero entry point, in the province of Muyinga in north-eastern Burundi.

"I couldn't believe this day would finally come," said returnee Kanziza Mwajuma, who is from Gashoho commune in Muyinga province. "I am pregnant now, but this has not preventing me from travelling home. I was fully aware that the risk could be deadly. This is the end of a long nightmare. My desire to get home soon is so strong."

UNHCR is only facilitating the return of refugees to provinces in northern and central Burundi, as well as to Bujumbura. However, some Burundians decide themselves to go back to other areas of the country. More than 9,300 Burundian refugees are estimated to have gone home spontaneously.

Burundian refugees who return with UNHCR's facilitated convoys are transported to transit centres, where they receive a returnee package including three months' supply of World Food Programme food aid and relief items. They are then transported on to their communes of origin. Since April this year, Burundians going home outside of the UNHCR-facilitated programme and who handed back their ration cards have also been given the three-month returnee packages. Vulnerable persons and unaccompanied children receive special assistance.

Returnees are doing well so far, according to interviews with 53 families who have gone home to communes that received the largest number of returnees, Muyinga (Muyinga province) and Giteranyi (Kirundo province). The interviews indicate that 98 percent of them find the security situation good, 96 percent have access to their land, and 87 percent say they have good relationships with their neighbours and the authorities.

There are some 750,000 Burundian refugees in Africa, many of whom fled their country after ethnic violence escalated into civil war in 1993. An estimated 400,000 are hosted in Tanzania.