Panafrican News Agency

941 Burundian refugees repatriated from Tanzania

Bujumbura, Burundi (PANA) - Some 941 Burundians from 392 households were greeted on Friday at the border with Tanzania, where they had taken refuge following the political crisis after the 2015 controversial violent elections, public radio announced.

Repatriation to different regions of origin were to begin this Saturday.

This is the first major wave of returns since the signing, last August, of an agreement between Burundi and Tanzania, one of the countries of the East Africa subregion which is home to the bulk of Burundian refugees.

Since last January, more than 15,000 Burundians have returned in small successive numbers, while an average of 642 refugees have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, according to the local UN Office for Coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA).

It said there are still some 189,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, 71,000 in Rwanda, 45,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and 41,000 in Uganda, making a total of 346,000.

The new bilateral agreement provides for the intensification of repatriations of an average of 2,000 per week, starting in early October.

Both parties are relying on the return of security in Burundi, where the 2015 electoral crisis has pushed into exile around 500,000 citizens.

The return of refugees has become a major issue of domestic policy for the Burundian authorities who intend to demonstrate that the situation of the country has indeed normalised.    

Other countries, such as Rwanda and Uganda, are not cooperating in the repatriation that some refugee organizations call "forced".

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is also not part of the new agreement between the Burundian and Tanzanian governments.

UNHCR promotes the principle of promoting only the voluntary return of any asylum seeker.

In March 2018, UNHCR had, however, acceded to the previous tripartite agreement (Burundi-UNHCR-Tanzania) on the assisted repatriation of Burundian refugees.

The agreement provided for the repatriation of 2,000 people a week, from 5 April to 31 December, 2018.

Priority should be given to the repatriation of some 19,148 Burundian refugees whose intention of return had been verified by UNHCR.

-0- PANA FB/JSG/SOC/KND/MA 21Sept2019