Ending one of the world’s longest-running refugee sagas, the United Nations announced that some 400 Burundians left Tanzania today returning to the Central African homeland they escaped in 1972.
“They are to travel by rail from the same train station where they arrived 37 years ago when they fled the eruption of ethnic violence which claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 Burundian civilians,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.
Since March 2008, UNHCR has helped 53,500 Burundian refugees from the so-called “old settlements” to repatriate under a joint programme with the Tanzanian Government, which also saw some 162,000 of the 1972 refugees opting to apply for citizenship in their host nation.
Tanzania has naturalized 29,000 of the refugees and expects to complete the process of the remaining 133,000 by the end of the year.
“Tanzania also hosts Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1993,” Mr. Mahecic told reporters in Geneva, noting that all but one of the camps – where 36,000 are sheltered – hosting this group has now been closed.
At the peak of the crisis in Burundi in the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people escaped clashes, sheltering in makeshift sites along the border with Tanzania.
“With the gradual return of peace in Burundi, more than half a million Burundian refugees have returned home, including more than 430,000 from camps in Tanzania [since 2004],” the UNHCR spokesman said.
Meanwhile over 20,000 Burundians, who fled their country in the 1990s, remain in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda, said Mr. Mahecic.
In Burundi, UNHCR is assisting returnees with issues in reclaiming property by providing temporary shelter and supporting the peaceful resolution of land disputes arising from their long absence. In addition, the Government and its “UN partners are also helping landless returnees settle in specially constructed villages, six of which have been opened in 2008 and 2009.”