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Cash grants help Burundian returnees rebuild their lives

Cash grants help Burundian returnees rebuild their lives

UNHCR's introduction of cash grants for Burundian returnees appears to have both encouraged more people to go back home and eased their reintegration.
13 March 2008
A returnee receives the first nstalment of her cash grant at a transit centre in Burundi.

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, March 13 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency's introduction last August of cash grants for Burundian returnees appears to have both encouraged more people to go back home and eased their reintegration.

In the months since the 50,000 Burundian Francs (about US$45) grant per person was introduced for Burundians in Tanzania, some 35,000 refugees have returned to their country. In August 2007, when the grant was introduced, some 10,500 people returned, more than triple the figure for the previous month.

Preliminary research indicates that the grant is giving the returnees a significant leg-up as they strive to rebuild their lives in Burundi after years in camps, where most of their needs were met by UNHCR and its partners.

"The cash grant has proven to be an efficient means not only to address immediate needs of arriving returnees, but also, in many cases, a basis for good reintegration," said Bo Schack, UNHCR representative in Burundi.

UNHCR field staff say returnees welcome the financial assistance, since it gives them the flexibility to address their most urgent needs and invest in income generation projects. Melchior Bavumiragiye is typical of those who have returned with a UNHCR grant - he has a big family, spent more than a decade in a Tanzanian camp and returned to a ruined village.

UNHCR distributes 20 percent of the grant on arrival in Burundi. Bavumiragiye got 100,000 francs for his family of 10 when they reached Mabanda transit centre in southern Burundi's Makamba province last November. He used part of this money to get back to his native Karinzi village in Rutana province.

"When I arrived in my village, there was nothing left except my ruined empty house. I had to rehabilitate it with new doors and windows and repair the leaking roof," he said. "I am using part of the financial allocation for these repairs and I will use the rest to buy a small plot of land for farming and to start a small business at the market," Bavumiragiye added.

The rest of the money has been deposited in an account with COOPEC, a savings and credit cooperative that has branches in urban and rural areas of Burundi.

UNHCR decided to introduce cash grants after discovering that many returnees were forced to sell the non-food items they received to help them get started on arrival in Burundi. This was because they needed the money to cover other urgent needs.

In Burundi, most returnees have to start from scratch in a country where infrastructure and the economy have been devastated by more than a decade of conflict. Most have few possessions and many have no land to return to.

The cash grant enables some to buy a plot of farmland or rebuild homes. UNHCR field staff say the money is also used to buy things such as clothes, seeds and fertilizers. If there is a residue, it is left in the account for future use.

Tanzania hosts 108,000 Burundian refugees in four camps, while a further 218,000 live in three settlements in the west of the country. Under a voluntary repatriation programme launched in March 2002, UNHCR has helped 350,000 Burundian refugees return home.

By Bernard Ntwari in Bujumbura, Burundi