Burundi return programme a priority, says senior UNHCR official
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, April 5 (UNHCR) - Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane has stressed UNHCR's commitment to the Burundi repatriation programme that could help half a million Burundian refugees return and reintegrate in the next three years.
The Assistant High Commissioner is currently on a week-long visit to Burundi and Tanzania to review the return movement that has picked up pace with the recent ceasefire and power-sharing agreement in Burundi. The refugee agency is expanding its presence in the country while more refugees have expressed a willingness to return amid the improved climate of security.
Travelling to Gisuru transit centre in eastern Burundi's Ruyigi province on Saturday, Morjane said, "We came to see for ourselves the situation in the camps in Tanzania, and in Burundi, at this crucial point in time when the history and future of this country - characterised by the obvious willingness of thousands of Burundians to return to their homes - are at a crossroads. We are here at this critical juncture to contribute to the successful outcome of this operation."
His visit comes just five months after High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers travelled to the country last November. Morjane noted, "It is not by chance, and this underlines the importance we give to the operation in Burundi, which is a priority and which will benefit from all of UNHCR's attention following the examples of Angola, Sudan, DRC, Liberia. We are committed to do the utmost for this new operation."
At the transit centre, the Assistant High Commissioner welcomed a group of 557 returnees who had just crossed back from Tanzania. "It is a historical day for you and for UNHCR because we are witnessing your return to your homeland," he told them. "I hope you will find happiness back here."
He also spoke to the governor of Ruyigi province, who underlined the poverty and urgent needs to be met for the returning population to reintegrate properly. At the same time, Morjane thanked the population of Tanzania for their long-term hospitality, asking the returnees not to forget this and to maintain good relationships with their neighbours in Tanzania.
He promised that UNHCR would stay with the returnees for some time to help them reintegrate, in collaboration with the government and other agencies.
Out of the 28,051 Burundian refugees who returned to Burundi from Tanzania since the beginning of this year, some 20,300 have passed through Gisuru, a new border crossing opened in late January.
While in Burundi, the Assistant High Commissioner met with President Domitien Ndayizeye, senior government officials, members of the diplomatic community and other aid agencies last week.
Crossing the border into western Tanzania over the weekend, he visited several refugee camps near the border, including Mtendeli, Kanembwa and Mtabila camps for Burundian refugees, and Nyarugufu camp for Congolese refugees.
The Assistant High Commissioner is scheduled to meet senior officials and representatives from partner agencies in the Tanzanian capital, Dar Es Salaam, before ending his mission on Wednesday.
Under a voluntary repatriation plan now being finalised, UNHCR aims to help 500,000 refugees return and reintegrate in Burundi between now and 2006. This year alone, the agency is planning to facilitate the return of at least 150,000 Burundian refugees from Tanzania.