• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Tears and cassava: joyous homecoming in Burundi after a lifetime in exile

Telling the Human Story, 3 December 2012

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
Feliyaza Bucumi (right), 30, who had been a refugee in Tanzania since he was 15, is welcomed home by his brother in Muyange village, southern Burundi.

MUYANGE, Burundi, December 3 (UNHCR) After spending half his life in exile, 30-year-old Feliyaza Bucumi has finally brought his six children and pregnant 28-year-old wife back to his ancestral home. "Whenever we talked about Burundi, they thought it was a fairy tale," Feliyaza says with a smile, gesturing to the children around him, who range in age from one to almost 10.

Even though they were born as refugees in Tanzania, "the children told me to go home" to Burundi, he relates in a UNHCR-run transit centre as the family prepares to board a truck for the last leg of the journey to his home hamlet of Muyange in Nyanza-Lac commune.

It is one of the three areas drawing most of the 17,000 former refugees who have come home from Mtabila camp since the end of October with the help of the UN refugee agency after the government of Tanzania found that some 37,500 Burundians living in the country needed to leave by the end of the year. A further 2,715 are being allowed to remain in Tanzania as refugees until long-term solutions can be found for them.

Feliyaza was only 15 when he fled to Tanzania, one of hundreds of thousands who fled civil strife in Burundi in the 1990s. Over the years, UNHCR has assisted more than a million return and re-establish their lives in Burundi, and now is helping the last come back and reintegrate. These include thousands of children, like his, who were born abroad and have never seen their supposed homeland.

Sitting in the Mabanda transit centre where his family has had a hot meal, Feliyaza's main concern is for his pregnant wife, Vastina, who will travel to their home village separately in a UNHCR van.

"I am very happy and I have no problems except I am worried about my wife because she is seven months pregnant," he says. The four-hour bus trip from Tanzania had been rough on her, but all she had to say was: "I am very tired."

Upon reaching Muyange, the family is met by Feliyaza's brother and other joyous villagers. When the UNHCR trucks arrive, residents many of whom had also been refugees in Mtabila rush from the market to greet the returnees with warm hugs and a few tears. There are shouts of "Amahoro," the Kirundi greeting which means "peace."

"What were you waiting for?" someone calls out. "There's no war here," yell several others, referring to the propaganda they felt had caused many to delay their homecoming. "Today I ate cassava," adds another villager. "Look at me I'm healthy."

A UNHCR protection associate who has accompanied the convoy to Muyange explains: "The residents want all the people in Mtabila to come back."

One older woman dressed in bright yellow, with tears streaming down her face, is hugging men and women she hasn't seen for years and calling out loudly: "Turatashe! Turatashe!" ("We returned home")

For Feliyaza there's little time for celebration. He sets about unloading the family's possessions from the UNHCR trucks and wondering how he will get them to his plot of land and how he will build a home for his family on the land, where he plans to farm.

For now, though, he's just relieved to be back on Burundian soil: "I feel glad because I'm among my relatives."

By Kitty McKinsey in Muyange, Burundi




UNHCR country pages

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

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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

Syria: Heading Home to RuinsPlay video

Syria: Heading Home to Ruins

Nearly half a million residents from Homs and surrounding areas have been displaced by heavy fighting, some multiple times within Syria, while others have fled abroad. One of the biggest challenges facing returnees, is rebuilding their homes in the rubble of old Homs and Hamediyeh.
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
Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee CampPlay video

Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee Camp

Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres completed a visit to Kenya and Somalia where he met with the Presidents of the two countries, as well as Somali refugees and returnees.