TheNigerianVoice Online Radio Center



5 October - Hundreds of Burundian refugees crossed the border from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to return to the country they escaped decades ago, kicking off a new series of voluntary returns, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.

The some 240 Burundians who repatriated in a convoy this morning are among the 10,000 expected to go back to Burundi over the coming months at a rate of one convoy a week, agency spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva today.

Most are from western and southern Burundi, and once home, they can take part in UNHCR's reintegration schemes, which provide healthcare, education and shelter.

Today's return is the first that UNHCR has been able to facilitate from South Kivu province in the DRC's volatile far east, given the insecurity in the region.

Most of the 15,000 Burundians in the province are remnants of the tens of thousands who fled ethnic clashes in their homeland in 1972 and then again in the early 1990s, resulting in one of the world's longest running refugee sagas.

“Of those in South Kivu, 10,000 have told us they want to go home,” Mr. Edwards said, adding that UNHCR is working with the authorities to address the integration needs of the remaining 5,000 who wish to stay in the DRC.

In total, there are 16,500 Burundians in the DRC and nearly 80,000 in other countries surrounding Burundi.

In the past six years, more than 500,000 Burundian refugees have returned home voluntarily, most with the support of UNHCR, while others have remained where they are, including in Tanzania, which has granted citizenship to 162,000 of them.

Burundi itself also hosts more than 40,000 Congolese refugees, 2,000 of whom have asked for the agency's assistance in repatriating, possibly later this month.

Last December, UNHCR, Burundi and the DRC reached a tripartite agreement to facilitate the return of Burundians to their country and Congolese to theirs.