Growing numbers of Burundians return home from the DRC
GATUMBA, Burundi, October 23 (UNHCR) - The UNHCR convoys arriving in Burundi in the past four years have carried refugees returning home from Tanzania, but now more and more of the singing, clapping returnees are coming back from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Hundreds of refugees among the estimated 19,000 Burundian refugees in the DRC have arrived home since September 7, when the Burundian government signed a peace agreement with the country's last active rebel group - Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL).
Some 780 have returned with the assistance of the UN refugee agency, and many more are waiting. Convoys organised by UNHCR are now temporarily suspended in the run-up to the DRC elections on October 29.
"Since we heard on the radio that [FNL leader Agathon] Rwasa has signed an agreement with the authorities, we decided it would be safe to come home," said Jean Bosco Baranyizigiye, accompanied by his wife and their two daughters. "Not long ago, insecurity was still high in our provinces," he added after arriving in Mutimbuzi near the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, from Uvira in the DRC's South Kivu province.
Most passengers on this and the other convoys originated from Burundian provinces neighbouring the DRC. Sporadic fighting in these areas ended only recently. The majority of the returnees are arriving empty-handed, unlike those returning from Tanzanian camps with belongings and even livestock. They did not live in assisted camps in the DRC, but in villages and the countryside, where they survived from hand to mouth.
Returnee Christiane Cimpaye said that since fleeing fighting in Burundi in 1993, she had subsisted by working for others and sometimes begging. She arrived in Gatumba in eastern Burundi with a pair of torn yellow plastic shoes, two loincloths and two children.
She said she wanted to send her children to school but did not have any money. Her face lit up when UNHCR repatriation assistant Tatien Ndajujuta explained that things have changed in Burundi and that primary education has been free since last year.
When they arrive in Burundi, returnees are taken to a reception centre where they are registered by the authorities and given a basic UNHCR assistance package, including goods such as blankets, mats, pots and plastic sheeting. The World Food Programme provides food rations for three months.
The returnees are then transported to their place of origin where, in most cases, they will have to find a temporary shelter while building a home for their family.
One confident refugee, 20-year-old Patrick Mvukiye, was planning firmly for the future. His priority is to get some land so that he can build a home and plant the soya beans he brought back with him from the DRC. Then he wants to find a wife - the dowry will be much cheaper in Burundi, Myukiye said, adding that his engagement to a woman in the DRC broke up when her family demanded more cows than he could afford.
More than 319,000 refugees have repatriated to Burundi since UNHCR started assisting the return process in 2002. Most have gone back from camps in Tanzania. Nearly 400,000 Burundians who fled inter-ethnic massacres in 1972 and from 1993 to 1996 are still in exile.
By Catherine-Lune Grayson in Gatumba, Burundi