Burundian refugees get a taste of home with "go-and-see" visit
KIRUNDO, Burundi, May 14 (UNHCR) - "It has been a long time, I haven't seen Burundi as peaceful as today, and people as nice as today," said Burundian refugee Nkezabahizi Léonard, clearly elated as his relatives and former neighbours surrounded him.
Leonard was one of 10 refugees living in Tanzania's camps who embarked on a "go-and-see" visit with UNHCR last week for a look at their home areas in Burundi before returning to the camps to share the experience with fellow refugees. The trip aimed to help refugees make a well-informed decision about whether they are ready to return home, and was the first such visit to northern Burundi's Kirundo province, where more than 12,000 Burundian refugees have already returned since 2002.
The five men and five women from Lukole refugee camps near Ngara in Tanzania visited their communes of origin in Buhinyuza and Busoni in Kirundo province from May 4-6. After meeting with relatives, neighbours and the administrative authorities, they said they were satisfied with the warm welcome and happy about improvements in security.
They visited the market and the parish, where they met many people, and toured schools and health clinics. They stressed, however, that much effort should be made in areas such as individual housing, school materials for returnee children, and health care. They were reassured by the answers they heard, particularly on the provision of identity cards, protection and security. They also learnt that returnee children do not have to pay school fees, and that UNHCR will assist in building individual housing by providing iron sheeting for roofs, doors and window materials.
The group was particularly concerned about the availability of land for returnees. They were told that a land survey was underway to identify available land. Most of the refugees who are expected to come home to areas in the northern provinces only left Burundi in the 1990s and generally do not encounter problems getting access to land when they return. Land is a more difficult issue, however, for the so-called "old caseload" refugees who left Burundi in the early 1970s and have not lived on Burundian territory for more than three decades.
"The time has come for Burundian refugees to return," said Ndimurwanko Anne-Marie after meeting with returnees selling beans at the market place.
Upon their return to the camp in Ngara, the 10 refugee representatives talked about their experiences on Radio Kwizera, a station that broadcasts refugee programmes in Tanzania. It is run by the Jesuits at Ngara and employs mainly refugees. Most of the station's programmes cover issues like refugee life in the camps, and developments in the security and political situation in Burundi. Many of the refugees have their own transistor radios, and groups of refugees often gather to listen to the news or other programmes.
"I'm simply impressed," said Niyonkuru Joselyne, adding that she would have returned already if she did not have to wait for her children finish the school year in Tanzania.
This was the third "go-and-see" visit to Burundi organised so far from Tanzania's camps. The first group of Burundian refugees from Lukole camp visited Muyinga and Kirundo provinces in March this year. The second group arrived in the same area early this month. A fourth visit is planned for the eastern province of Ruyigi during the last week of May.
The visits were one of the recommendations of the latest tripartite meeting between Tanzania, Burundi and UNHCR that took place in Arusha, Tanzania, in February this year.
Some 40,000 Burundian refugees have gone home since the beginning of this year. Three border crossing points between Burundi and Tanzania have opened for return convoys facilitated by UNHCR. A fourth entry point - to the southern province of Makamba - is expected to open in early June, after delays due to heavy rains that slowed the necessary road repairs. In all, 176,000 refugees have returned to Burundi since 2002.