THE United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has assured continued support to refugees who are willing to return to their home countries following improvements in political and social-economic conditions.
The UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, Mr George Okoth -Obbo, said that his agency will work with the government to ensure refugees who return voluntarily are able to successfully reintegrate in their countries of origin.
Mr Obbo was in Tanzania for a six day mission where among other things he participated in the Tripartite meeting between Tanzania, Burundi and UNHCR, and visited Nduta and Mtendeli refugee camps in Kigoma Region.
"UNHCR is ready to support all refugees who are willing to return home, and also continue working with the government to help those who are still concerned about safety in their mother countries," he said. He noted that the repatriation exercise was being done by upholding principle of voluntariness, insisting that no refugee will be pressured to go back to their countries unless they are willing.
According to UNHCR, nearly 80,000 refugees from Nduta, Mtendeli and Nyarugusu refugee camps have voluntarily returned to Burundi since the exercise started in 2017.
Mr Obbo appealed to the international community to continue supporting the refugee programme in Tanzania. "In Tanzania, we need USD 126 million, but our available fund is just one third of the amount. We are really grateful for all the support to date, but much more is needed," he said.
On 31 August 2017, the Tripartite Commission (United Republic of Tanzania, Republic of Burundi, and UNHCR) issued a joint communiqué and agreed to implement a work plan from September 7, to 31 December 2017, which entails the voluntary repatriation plan of Burundian refugees who wish to return to Burundi.
Mr Obbo, however, said that UNHCR was determined to address challenges facing refugees in their camps, including provision of alternative cooking energy to reduce the use of firewood.
He said that UNHCR was aware of the challenges facing refugees, such as violence against women, especially those who go out to fetch firewood, lack of child and maternal health services, closure of markets within the camps and security issues.
On alternative energy, he said UNHCR will continue to convince donors so that they can support provision of alternative energy.
"We have a solution, but the problem is lack of funds, I will communicate this concern to our donors and see what can be done to address the problem.
The issue of firewood is not only causing problem to women, but also detrimental to our environment," he said. Director for Refugee Services, Mr Sudi Mwakibasi said the refugees were not forced to return to their home countries, but the process of registration and repatriation was being done to those who have indicated a desire to go back home.
"We have been praying for peace in your country so that you can return home safely ... no one is being forced to go back, but when you are satisfied with the situation in your country, we are ready to support you to go back home," he said.
He promised to work with other partners in addressing challenges facing refugees, such as violence against women, provision of alternative energy, and the concern about some refugees being associated with some criminal activities.