The first batch of 471 Burundian refugees returned home Thursday from Rwanda in a repatriation programme organised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Governments of Rwanda and Burundi.The group returnees left Mahama Camp in the southeastern district of Kirehe in Rwanda on Monday, aboard bus and headed to Nemba border crossing between the two countries.
“The returnees were visibly happy to be back,” UNHCR reported. “Many had not seen their home country in at least 5 years, while their children had been born in the settlements and were setting foot in Burundi for the first time.”
Of the 600 refugees who have registered for the UNHCR return programme, the agency expects that more than half will have returned home by the end of this week.
Earlier this month, officials from Rwanda, Burundi and the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) engaged in a videoconference talks to seek ways of boosting the repatriation of Burundian refugees living in Rwanda.
The move comes after an appeal of more than 330 Burundian refugees in Mahama camp (Eastern Rwanda) who petitioned Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye seeking a dignified and lawful return to their home country.
The petition letter also stressed that these refugees fled because of the political crisis and insecurity stemming mainly from Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to serve a controversial third term in 2015.
According to UNHCR figures, by the end of June 2020, there were more than 430,000 Burundian refugees scattered in the region.
Tanzania hosts the highest number with 164,87, DR Congo hosts 103,690, Rwanda 72,007, Uganda 48,275, Kenya 13,800, Mozambique 7,800, Malawi 8,300, South Africa 9,200 and Zambia is home to 6,000.
Mahama Refugee Camp located in Kirehe District in the Eastern Province has become the country’s largest camp – hosting Burundian refugees since the emergency. It has a population of around 60,000 refugees.