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Burundi: refugees return despite reports of intense fighting

Briefing notes

Burundi: refugees return despite reports of intense fighting

23 January 2003

More than 353 Burundian refugees were yesterday (Thursday) repatriated to northern Burundi despite reports of intense fighting that has displaced an estimated 40,000-60,000 people in Gitega, central Burundi. Many of the refugees on yesterday's convoy from Ngara, north-western Tanzania said they were aware of the upsurge in fighting between rebels and government troops in Gitega but were confident of their safety in villages in the north of the country.

UNHCR has a maintained a policy to assist returns only to the relatively safe northern region of Burundi. Under an agreement reached at a tripartite meeting between the governments of Burundi and Tanzania early last year, UNHCR transports returnees mainly from camps in Ngara, Tanzania. They pass through one of two transit centres (Songore and Mugano), both in Muyinga province, and on to drop-off points close to their villages of origin.

The five-truck convoy from Ngara crossed the border yesterday at the Kobero border crossing, taking returnees to the transit centre at Mugano. Here, the returnees received a return package consisting of food and domestic supplies before continuing to their villages. In one village, some 13 km from the transit centre, returnees were received by waiting villagers, many of them recent returnees from camps in Tanzania. Some of the returnees say they left their war-ravaged country in 1993 following the unrest which followed the assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye. Yesterday's repatriation brings the total number of returns organised by UNHCR from Tanzania to Burundi this year to 2,418.