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UN appeals for funds to help Burundian refugees return home from Tanzania

UN appeals for funds to help Burundian refugees return home from Tanzania

United Nations agencies appealed to donors today for at least $20 million for increased food aid to help many of the 149,000 Burundian refugees in camps in Tanzania to return home, warning that without more funding the initiative may collapse.

“Unless new contributions arrive now, we will have to cut rations across the board to everyone we assist or face a complete break in supplies in December,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Burundi Country Director Gerard van Dijk said.

Burundi, recovering from decades of devastating ethnic war, is one of the first nations referred to the new UN Peacebuilding Commission that seeks to prevent countries emerging from conflict from slipping back into bloodshed.

“While security has improved significantly in Burundi, refugees say that with improved food security, there would be better prospects for return,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) country representative Bo Schack said, echoing WFP’s appeal.

“The increased food package is an important step in our joint effort to help returnees reintegrate in their home communities. We are appealing for strong donor support for this initiative.”

Without new funds, both the returnee rations and food aid for 815,000 other hungry Burundians are in jeopardy. WFP urgently needs $20 million to continue its work in the small Central African country, one of the poorest and least developed in the world.

Since April, WFP has provided a four-month food ration to returnees from Tanzania. The agency and its partner Caritas, a non-governmental organization, will now provide a six-month ration, helping families through their first difficult months before their first harvest in their homeland. “We hope that this larger ration will speed up the pace of returns to Burundi this year,” Mr. van Dijk said.

It is “particularly worrying that we are in a funding crunch at the same time as the Government of Tanzania is pushing for more refugees to return home,” he added. “We need to be able to tell families considering a return that they can count on food and other aid to help them.”

Returning refugees receive a two-month ration as they start their journey in Tanzania, and can then use vouchers to collect the remaining four-month entitlement close to their homes. Forty-five permanent distribution centres and 72 mobile distribution facilities have been set up in the provinces.

In a similar bid to boost repatriation, UNHCR introduced a cash grant in July. Each returnee receives the equivalent of almost $50 upon arrival to buy essential goods. Some 6,000 refugees have returned since the launch of the cash initiative, more than half of the over 10,000 returnees since the beginning of the year.

Since 2002, more than 340,000 refugees have returned voluntarily. Overall, Tanzania hosts nearly half a million refugees, making it one of the largest asylum countries in Africa. In addition to the 149,000 Burundians, there are also 110,000 Congolese living in camps in northwestern Tanzania, where they receive UNHCR and WFP aid. According to Government estimates, another 200,000 Burundians live outside the camps.