US report gives UNHCR high marks for Burundi operation

News Stories, 20 April 2009

© UNHCR/A.Kirchhof
Burundian returnee children at a UNHCR transit centre in Ruyigi province.

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, April 20 (UNHCR) A report commissioned by the United States has praised UNHCR's assisted voluntary repatriation programme for Burundi while warning that major challenges remain.

"Near-complete repatriation and reintegration are facts of life and were achieved with an indispensable contribution from the [UNHCR] programme of assisted return," said the report, referring to the return of almost half-a-million people over the past seven years. That's about six percent of the population.

Some features of the UN refugee agency's programme, added the recently released survey, "put it in the range of best practice responses to refugee crises and humanitarian crises in general."

The report was commissioned by the US State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and compiled by an independent group of experts. The bureau is one of the main sponsors of UNHCR's Burundi programme and the report was designed to evaluate PRM's impact on the repatriation and reintegration of Burundian refugees.

The researchers from the Terra P Group were in Burundi from June-November last year assessing the work of UNHCR, especially in border areas of heavy return. They asked returnees about their land, health, food situation, shelter and sanitation as well as employment and education opportunities. The questions were aimed at determining what effect the support from UNHCR and other humanitarian aid organizations had had on their lives.

The results were positive, with most refugees saying that they had benefitted from their returnee status in Burundi. Families interviewed had been back in Burundi for an average of four years and the report found that their living conditions were similar to those of people who never fled Burundi.

For the average returnee household, "assistance played an important role in the achievement of reintegration," said the report, which also noted that UNHCR had "ensured comprehensive physical, legal and economic protection of Burundian refugees during their repatriation."

But the report said big challenges remain. Access to land remains "a stumbling block" for many people returning to the small and densely populated country. The survey also cited problems such as overcrowded schools, lack of health facilities and food insecurity, which affect all Burundians.

UNHCR's voluntary return operation for Burundi began in 2002. It has helped 474,000 people return home, mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.

By Andreas Kirchhof in Bujumbura, Burundi





UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Finding a Home on Ancestral Land

Somali Bantu refugees gaining citizenship in Tanzania

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

Since the end of October more than 26,000 Burundian former refugees have been assisted by UNHCR and its partners to return home from the Mtabila camp in northwest Tanzania. The operation is organized with the Government of Tanzania to help some 35,500 Burundian former refugees go back to Burundi by the end of 2012, when the Mtabila camp officially closes.

Refugee status for most Burundians in Tanzania formally ended in August following individual interviews to assess remaining protection needs. A total of 2,715 people will continue to be hosted as refugees in Tanzania, while the rest, the last of a population of refugees who left Burundi some 20 years ago, must return home. This is not an easy move after having spent most of your life -- and sometimes all of it -- in exile.

While awaiting their turn to join one of the daily convoys to bring them home, Burundian former refugees are preparing themselves for a fresh start…

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Africa is the continent most affected by the tragedy of forced displacement. While millions of refugees were able to return to Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda and South Sudan over the last 15 years, the numbers of internally displaced people continued to grow. At the beginning of 2009, in addition to some 2.3 million refugees, an estimated 11.6 million people were internally displaced by conflict in Africa.

To address forced displacement on the continent, the African Union is organizing a special summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced people from October 19-23 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Heads of state and government will look at the challenges and at ways to find solutions to forced displacement. They are also expected to adopt a Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa, which would be the first legally binding instrument on internal displacement with a continental scope. This photo gallery looks at some of the forcibly displaced around Africa, many of whom are helped by UNHCR.

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek Safety

He used to fix broken bicycles in Burundi, but as political troubles and killings mounted Nestor Kamza decided to flee. In search of safety he and his family walked non-stop for 24-hours until they reached Tanzania. His family is among more than 100,000 people who have fled from political violence in Burundi and arrived in the Nyarugusu camp which has almost tripled in size. To alleviate overcrowding in the camp, UNHCR and its partners have planned to open three new camps and have started moving tens of thousands of Burundian refugees to a new, less congested, home
Tanzania: Setting Sail to SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Setting Sail to Safety

More than 60,000 Burundian refugees have arrived in Tanzania since the beginning of May. On the shores of Lake Tanganyika, hundreds board a ferry to Kigoma, Tanzania, before continuing to Nyaragusu camp.
Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.