Burundi: last refugees to repatriate from Tanzania
28 October 2011

JRS livelihood projects ease the transition for refugees returning home, Burundi. (Danilo Giannese/JRS)
Repatriation is a delicate step in the lives of returnees. After spending years receiving food assistance and basic services, they come back home to a country whether they lost everything: house, land, livelihoods, said JRS Great Lakes Regional Director Tony Calleja SJ.
Bujumbura, 28 October 2011 –The last of more than 500,000 refugees who fled violent civil war in Burundi in the 1990s will return home, bringing the massive repatriation process to an end.

The refugees, now living in Tanzania, will be repatriated as a part of an agreement signed by the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) and the governments of Burundi and Tanzania. The agreement establishes the closure of the last Tanzanian refugee camp, hosting 38,000 Burundians, on 31 December 2011.

"Repatriation is a delicate step in the lives of returnees. After spending years receiving food assistance and basic services, they come back home to a country whether they lost everything: house, land, livelihoods", said JRS Great Lakes Regional Director Tony Calleja SJ.

"Although many of them are happy to be back, they don't feel at home and local communities look at them as foreigners, even though they were born and grew up in those villages", continued Fr Calleja.

According to a recent report published by the NGOs International Refugee Rights Initiative and Rema Ministries, refugees are resisting repatriation because they fear poor living conditions and security problems in Burundi. However, where organisations have intervened, the situation has improved significantly.

Since 2007, JRS has accompanied 13,000 Burundian returnee-families back home, helping them rebuild their lives from scratch and reintegrate into local communities. The Jesuit organisation seeks to promote the socio-economic reintegration of former refugees and their reconciliation with local communities.

The largest programmes managed by JRS are two food security projects in Muyinga and Rutana provinces, in eastern Burundi, close to the border with Tanzania. The programmes provide beneficiaries from the returnee and local communities with agriculture and husbandry skills. The inclusion of the local community is designed to prevent tensions between the two groups.

Starting from…two goats

"When I decided to participate in JRS programme they gave me two goats. Since then, I have learned to take care of them and prevent them from becoming ill. With the help of JRS, I built a goat house and produced a large amount of fertiliser which I use to cultivate bananas, eggplants and beans", said Danielo, a 44 year-old former refugee man living in Giteranyi, who returned home in 2004.

Upon his return, Danielo only received a six-month UN food kit. Now he makes a living from the agricultural and animal husbandry knowledge he has acquired.

"By learning efficient agricultural techniques, I am now able to increase production. Not only can I feed my family, but I can sell my vegetables in the market, and use the money to buy chickens and other goats. My current dream is to buy cattle, and I am confident I will realise it", added Danielo.

"Before attending JRS workshops on agriculture techniques, I used to produce 20kg of beans. Now I produce more than 200kg, which allows my family and I to live well, leaving behind all the challenges we faced when we came back to Burundi", said 61 year-old former refugee Severin, describing his experience as a beneficiary of the JRS food security project in Giharo.

Early this month, JRS completed the construction of an agricultural training centre in Kibimba, as part of the food security project in Giharo. The facility will enhance the farming skills of both returnees and local communities. This is a crucial step for JRS in the accompaniment of refugees towards autonomy, particularly since the organisation plans to close its projects in 2012.

"After 5 years assisting returnees who were virtually destitute, we have surely accomplished our goal of providing them with the skills they need to improve their economic circumstances and promote their reintegration. Our role is to promote durable solutions for refugees, not the long-term development, so it is time close our projects", added Fr Calleja.



Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
international.communications@jrs.net
+39 06 6897 7465