After 20 years, more than 1,000 Burundians returning home every day

News Stories, 14 November 2012

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
A returnee bus crosses the border from Tanzania into Burundi. The convoys are carrying over 1,000 Burundians per day as they make the most of their last chance to get help returning home after losing their refugee status in Tanzania.

MABANDA TRANSIT CENTRE, Burundi, November 14 (UNHCR) More than 1,000 Burundians are returning to their homeland almost every day with the help of the UN refugee agency and its partners, after losing their refugee status in Tanzania.

Taking advantage of a last opportunity for assistance in making the journey, close to 8,000 former refugees have returned from Mtabila refugee camp in Tanzania since October 31 on convoys organized by UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other partners. The first convoy carried only 356 people, but more are signing up every day.

"We see more and more people coming forward and the pace of the convoys is picking up," said Chansa Kapaya, UNHCR's representative in Tanzania. "Co-operation between the Tanzanian government and humanitarian agencies on issues related to the orderly return continues to be excellent."

International agencies stepped forward to help the former refugees go home after the government of Tanzania found that some 37,500 Burundians living in the country were no longer refugees and needed to leave Tanzania by the end of the year. A further 2,715 are being allowed to remain in the country as refugees.

The decision followed interviews with some 40,000 Burundian refugees conducted by panels made up of UNHCR staff and Tanzanian government officials over 11 months, giving consideration to developments in Burundi since they fled nearly 20 years ago.

When the weather is bad, the bus journey from Mtabila can take as long as four hours instead of two because rain has made some roads impassable. Once inside Burundi, returnees are given a hot meal at one of three UNHCR transit centres in Makamba province. They also spend the night there before continuing to their home areas.

Those who need medical care receive it and those with specific needs children alone, pregnant women, blind people or very old people get special attention.

"We thank God who led us here," said a man named Athanase, standing in this transit centre 20 kilometres from the border, with his wife and seven children, ranging in age from one to 18 years. He said they were looking forward to rebuilding their lives, even though they would have preferred to remain in Tanzania.

All returnees are registered by UNHCR and receive a month's food ration as well as a small cash grant. They also receive a number of useful household items, such as sleeping mats, mosquito nets, buckets, jerry cans, some clothing and sanitary materials. As well, they begin the process of getting a vital government ID card.

By the next morning, most are on their way back, with the help of UNHCR and partners, to where they originally came from. Trucks take them and their possessions to their hometowns (called communes in Burundi) -- 76 communes in 17 provinces, although three communes are the main destinations.

Some of the returnees who had fled civil strife in the 1990s seemed genuinely surprised to find a country at peace, apparently believing Burundi was still at war.

Since April 2002, UNHCR has supported the government of Burundi to reintegrate more than half a million returning refugees helping them reclaim their land, settle land disputes, build homes and start businesses.

"We have helped returnees to resume their normal life," said Catherine Huck, UNHCR's representative in Burundi. "UNHCR intends to continue working closely with the government and development organizations to make sure that this latest group of returnees can restart their lives and contribute to stability in Burundi."

By Kitty McKinsey at Mabanda Transit Centre, Burundi

Consolidated Inter-Agency information note on the closure of the Mtabila camp in the United Republic of Tanzania and the return to Burundi of the former refugees. 15 October 2012 31 March 2013

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Finding a Home on Ancestral Land

Somali Bantu refugees gaining citizenship in Tanzania

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

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

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

Angelina Jolie visits Baghdad   Play video

Angelina Jolie visits Baghdad

On her recent trip to the Middle East, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie met internally displaced Iraqis and refugee returnees to Baghdad.
South Sudan: Nearly HomePlay video

South Sudan: Nearly Home

The returnees head by bus for their ancestral home in South Sudan. Some are jubilant. Others are apprehensive.
Somalia: Zanzibar ReturnPlay video

Somalia: Zanzibar Return

It took more than a decade, but finally a group of families return to Zanzibar in Tanzania after living in exile in Mogadishu, Somalia.