BURUNDI: Boost for returnees

Friday, December 14, 2007

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are to run a joint programme to improve the reintegration conditions for returnees, a UNHCR official in Bujumbura said.

The European Union granted 10 million Euros (US$15 million) to the agencies, with UNHCR taking two-thirds to fund the reintegration programme for 2008-2009.

About 125,000 returnees, including 15,000 people expelled from Tanzania, will be assisted.

According to Andreas Kirchhof, UNHCR public relations officer, the agency expects the programme to “encourage voluntary repatriation but also improve the conditions of returnees back home as they will have the possibility of getting a shelter”.

The construction component is the most important part of the project. UNHCR will help 19,600 households build small houses in 2008 and 2009. UNICEF will build 15 schools and 15 pre-school nurseries.

“With 20,000 houses, some 100,000 persons will have a shelter,” Kirchhof said.

About 40,000 Burundians were repatriated in 2007 and the UN agency expects a larger number next year.

In a statement, the UNHCR Representative in Burundi, Bo Schack, said: “The new partnership will improve the conditions for reintegration. It is a signal of hope for all Burundians still living in exile. More persons will receive shelter, will be able to send their children to school, and will have access to healthcare or legal assistance."

The new programme will also enable Burundians expelled from Tanzania to access services so far only available to returnees. Expelled Burundians not recognised as refugees by the Tanzanian government were not normally in the UNHCR mandate.

Kirchhof indicated that under this new programme, the UN agency would help them with identity cards, houses and legal assistance as many returnees are involved in land disputes.

About 120,000 Burundian refugees still await repatriation from Tanzania, with the Tanzanian government threatening to close all the camps by mid-2008. During a tripartite commission of Burundi, Tanzania and UNHCR held in Bujumbura on 4 December, however, Tanzania was requested to extend the deadline for closure of camps until November 2008.

Source: IRIN