SHOZA, Burundi – This has been a phenomenally busy year for the UN refugee agency in Burundi, with almost 100,000 refugees returning home and stepped up support aimed at easing their reintegration in the small landlocked country after years of exile.
Some 94,000 refugees have returned to Burundi since January, more than in any other year since UNHCR launched its voluntary assisted repatriation programme in 2002. Most have come back from Tanzania, which is in the process of consolidating and closing refugee camps along the Burundian border.
Although the general situation has improved in Burundi over the years, the returnees face considerable challenges with reintegration. But UNHCR has been able to give many of them a leg up over the past year thanks to funding from various donors, including the European Union (EU).
Thanks to support from the EU`s European Development Fund, UNHCR has handed over more than 6,000 additional shelter kits to returnees and strengthened programmes aimed at monitoring their welfare and resolving problems over land, a serious issue in a country with limited space.
The impact of the aid was visible during a recent visit by European Commission representatives to the Shoza community in north-eastern Burundi. Cheers went up as a house built from one of the shelter kits was handed over to a family of seven, who returned a few months back after 13 years in a Tanzanian camp.
"Our situation here in Burundi was really precarious. We lived in a hut which I had built and covered with plastic sheeting, but it was far too small. Our children did not have enough space to sleep," said the family patriarch, 35-year-old Josaphat Ndimurwanko. With the building materials provided under the UNHCR project, he built a small brick house with a corrugated iron roof. "Now the children are well and healthy," a smiling Ndimurwanko added.