Burundi: pace of return from Tanzania picking up
More than 12,000 Burundian refugees have returned home from camps in Tanzania so far this year, and the pace of returns is picking up with a new border crossing route allowing organized returns to previously inaccessible parts of the country.
Some 7,000 of the refugees have returned through a new border crossing point at Gisuru into the eastern Ruyigi province which was opened in late January. By next week, UNHCR will have doubled the number of weekly convoys along this route to four to accommodate the growing demand by refugees to return to Ruyigi. Each convoy transports around 1,000 refugees.
At the same time, refugees staying in camps in the Ngara region of Tanzania, further to the north, have been returning in twice-weekly convoys through the border crossing point at Kobero in Burundi's north-eastern Muyinga province. A third crossing point at Gahumo is used for refugees from Burundi's Cankuzo province.
To cope with the large numbers of returns, we have been beefing up our presence and operations in the provinces neighbouring Tanzania. Three more emergency staff have been deployed to Burundi, joining the three already on the ground. Another four emergency staff are due to arrive in the next 10 days.
The teams are re-opening a UNHCR office in Ruyigi province, which was closed in 2001 for security reasons. We are also expanding our existing office in Muyinga province, and a staff member has arrived to head up the office there. Once the Muyinga and Ruyigi offices are operational, we also hope to open an office in the southern province of Makamba.
More than 320,000 Burundi refugees still live in camps in Tanzania. We began facilitating returns to Burundi in 2002, but until this year had limited these organised convoys to provinces in northern and central Burundi for security reasons. This year, following ceasefire and power-sharing agreements between the government and the main rebel group, the FDD, improved security has been opening up opportunities for organised refugee returns and increased UNHCR presence in new regions of the country. In all, from 2001 to 2003, some 148,000 Burundi refugees returned home, about 70,000 of them on UNHCR-facilitated repatriations.