Burundi: Voluntary Repatriation of Burundian Refugees Accelerates

Geneva — The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 60,000 Burundian refugees have voluntarily returned home this year, ending years of exile in five neighboring countries.

The election of Burundi's then-President Pierre Nkurunziza to a controversial third term in 2015 triggered a mass exodus of refugees from the country. Observers say it took another presidential election in May 2020 to persuade thousands of refugees it was safe to go home.

Evariste Ndayishimiye took office on June 20, following the sudden death of Nkurunziza earlier that month.

The UN refugee agency says the voluntary assisted return program, which began in 2017, has been gathering pace after the country's elections in 2020.

UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo, acknowledges her agency's concerns about reported human rights violations in Burundi. She says all returns are carefully vetted to ensure that it's done in safe manner.

A convoy carrying 343 Burundian refugees returned to the country from Uganda earlier this week. The UNHCR reports about half that number have returned from Tanzania, with the rest coming from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya.

Mantoo says the repatriation operation is moving along in a quick and organized fashion. She says convoys of around 1500 refugees arrive in Burundi every week.

"On arrival at one of five reception centers, returning families are given household items and cash assistance to help them restart their lives. However, more support is needed to achieve sustainable reintegration for these individuals (who) are returning as well as for the communities in Burundi receiving them. Often the required social and economic infrastructure is lacking," she expressed.

The UNHCR reports it has received just 10 percent of the $104.3 million it needs to support return and reintegration in Burundi. It notes this is a problem given the increasing numbers of people going home.

Since 2017, more than 180,000 Burundian refugees have voluntarily returned home. However, nearly 270,000 Burundian refugees remain in exile.

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