More than 60,000 Burundian refugees have voluntarily returned to their country this year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).They come from Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and, since the beginning of October, from Uganda.
With the return of peace in their country, they have voluntarily decided to return to their homeland.
According to the UNHCR, a convoy carrying 343 Burundian refugees from Uganda entered Burundi last Monday.
This brings to more than 60,000 the number of refugees who have ended their forced exile.
About half of this total returned from Tanzania, the UN agency said.
UNHCR said it accompanies these returns and conducts assessments to ensure that the decision to return is voluntary, free and informed, and that repatriations take place in safety and dignity.
Thus, he maintains, every week, convoys arrive in Burundi with about 1,500 people.
Upon arrival at one of five reception centres, returning families are given household items and cash assistance to help them start a new life.
However, UNHCR noted, more support is needed to achieve sustainable reintegration, both for the returnees and for the host communities in Burundi.
The necessary social and economic infrastructure is often lacking.
“Burundi is a rare example where significant numbers of refugees are returning home,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
However, it warned, without significant investment in return areas to support reintegration, the cycle of displacement could repeat itself.
UNHCR is therefore calling for more funding for the Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan 2021 launched earlier this year.
This outlines the needs of 19 humanitarian and development organisations to support returns, sustainable reintegration and community resilience.
Of the US$104.3 million needed, only about 10 percent of the funds to support return and reintegration in Burundi have been committed, despite the increase in the number of people returning to the country, UNHCR said.
According to UNHCR, since 2017, when the assisted voluntary return programme began, more than 180,000 Burundian refugees have returned home, with a notable increase in returns since July 2020, following the country’s general elections.
Around 270,000 Burundian refugees remain in exile in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa and Zambia.