Saturday, September 01, 2012

Burundi: Back to the land: The long-term challenges of refugee return and reintegration in Burundi

UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Burundi, a small and densely populated country in the heart of the East African Great Lakes region, has witnessed the return of more than 500,000 refugees over the past decade (UNHCR, 2011). These refugees fled the country during waves of political instability and conflict that mainly emerged after Burundi’s independence in 1962.

After the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreements in August 2000 many Burundians started to return voluntarily from exile, and official repatriation movements, facilitated by UNHCR in a joint initiative with the Burundian and Tanzanian government, started in 2002. The majority of former refugees were repatriated from neighbouring country Tanzania, which currently still hosts a relatively small group of 37,000 Burundian refugees, referred to as the ‘residual’ caseload (UNHCR, 2011).

Most Burundian refugees have physically returned to the country and the residual caseload is expected to return in the coming year. However, as in other countries facing large return movements, return marks rather the beginning of a long road than its ending.

The reintegration of former refugees in Burundi, hereafter referred to as returnees, is challenging due to structural problems of demographic pressure, poverty, unemployment, and a lack of infrastructure. In addition, the return of former refugees to Burundi puts additional pressure on the country’s scarce resources such as land.

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