UN refugee repatriation in Burundi threatened by serious funding shortfall

UN refugee repatriation in Burundi threatened by serious funding shortfall

Two women in Kayanza, Burundi
Facing a 52 per cent shortfall in funds for one of the biggest voluntary repatriation operations worldwide and the largest in Africa, the United Nations refugee agency warned today that it might have to suspend the return of hundreds of thousands of Burundians from Tanzania as their homeland emerges from decades of war.

“This funding crisis could not come at a more critical time for the operation and the region,” UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, noting that Burundi's four-year transition from ethnic conflict concluded peacefully with August’s election of President Pierre Nkurunziza.

“Unless we receive money immediately, we will have no choice but to reduce or even suspend the repatriation,” he added.

Mr. Nkurunziza’s assumption of office triggered a remarkable increase in the number of refugees returning home, with up to 15,000 people returning every month, mainly from neighbouring Tanzania, where most of them have lived since the mid-1990s, although some go back to the early 1970s.

Out of the $62 million sought for the repatriation operation this year, UNHCR has received only $29 million. “We have, in fact, already run out of money from the appeal and are currently using emergency funds from our operational reserve in order to continue our activities,” Mr. Redmond said. “We will not, however, be able to rely on such sources for more than a few weeks.”

He noted that the government of the small Central African country faced enormous challenges, reconstructing homes and infrastructures, creating health and education facilities and achieving a stable peace, as well as reintegrating hundreds of thousands of returning refugees and internally displaced people.

Some 285,000 refugees have returned home since 2001 when peace accords ended much of the fight between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis, 58,000 of them since the beginning of the year. But Tanzania is still home to more than 400,000 Burundians.

This year, UNHCR had committed to build almost 23,000 homes, 48 schools with a total of 245 classrooms and 14 health centres. “Because of lack of funds, we have had to revise these numbers to 43 schools and 11 health centres but if the current financial crisis continues we will have to stop all building programmes,” Mr. Redmond warned.

“Income-generating activities and professional training programmes benefiting some 10,000 people will also be suspended.”