This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
A convoy carrying 343 Burundian refugees returned to the country from Uganda on Monday. This brings the number of refugees who have voluntarily returned to Burundi this year to more than 60,000. Roughly half of that total have returned from Tanzania, with the rest coming from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya and, since the beginning of October, from Uganda.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is assisting the returns and has conducted assessments to ensure the decision to return is voluntary, free and informed and that repatriation takes place in safety and dignity. Each week, convoys arrive in Burundi with around 1,500 people.
On arrival at one of five reception centres, returning families are given household items and cash assistance to help them restart their lives. However, more support is needed to achieve sustainable reintegration for the individuals returning as well as for communities in Burundi receiving them. Often the required social and economic infrastructure is lacking.
There are many situations of protracted international displacement around the world. Burundi is a rare example in which significant numbers of refugees are returning home. However, without meaningful investment in the return areas to support reintegration, the cycle of displacement could be repeated.
UNHCR is calling for more funding for the 2021 Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan launched at the beginning of the year, which outlines the requirements of 19 humanitarian and development partners to support the returns, sustainable reintegration and community resilience. As an example of our efforts to support communities, UNHCR broke ground last week on Burundi’s first National COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment Centre located in Cankuzo Province, where many refugees are returning in the east of the country.
Of the US$104.3 million, only some 10 per cent of the funding needed to support return and reintegration in Burundi has been committed, despite the increased numbers going home.
Since 2017, when the assisted voluntary return programme began, over 180,000 Burundian refugees have returned home with a notable increase in returns since July 2020 after the country’s national elections.
Nearly 270,000 Burundian refugees remain in exile, generously hosted by Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa and Zambia.