Young Burundians reunite with their families after years of separation
NYANZA-LAC, Burundi, April 6 (UNHCR) - Isidorie feels as though her long-lost daughter, Stella, has been reborn seven years after the Burundian teenager appeared to have disappeared from her family's life forever.
A few weeks ago, they were reunited here in southern Burundi with the help of the UN refugee agency and its partner, the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The two agencies last year helped 394 refugee children go back home to Burundi and either reunite with their family or find places with foster parents.
"I am so happy to see my oldest child return home. I am even happier than the day I gave birth," Isidorie said at the emotional reunion. Stella, who had been nervous all day, was a picture of joy. "I missed my parents and brothers very much. I did not like living in the refugee camp [in Tanzania], but now I'm happy."
As for so many others in Burundi, the ordeal of Stella's family began in the 1990s, when the country was torn by brutal inter-ethnic strife. Her family and siblings fled to a safer part of the country, but in the confusion the then five-year-old girl ended up receiving help from another family.
When the carnage escalated, this family fled to Tanzania with Stella and the young girl lost touch with her parents. The silence lasted for seven years, when Isidorie discovered that she could ask for help in tracing her daughter as peace returned to Burundi and refugees began returning home.
UNHCR and its partners quickly tracked down Stella, finding her in Mtabila refugee camp, less than 100 kilometres from her parents' village. The agency believes a further 330 Burundian children remain in Tanzania in a similar situation and hopes to find solutions for many of them this year.
Meanwhile, despite the years of separation, Stella's parents are sure she will have no problem integrating into the family. "She is one of ours, we will live together happily," her father Erisha said after carrying her to the small mud house where the family of seven lives.
Stella and her family will receive further support from UNHCR and the IRC, including follow-up visits, education and health care support. Some young people reunited with their families are given vocational training.
UNHCR started its voluntary repatriation programme for Burundian refugees in 2002. Since then, 474,000 refugees, or about six percent of Burundi's population, have returned and received assistance from UNHCR.
By Andreas Kirchhof and Jerome Seregni in Nyanza-Lac, Burundi