Two United Nations agencies today appealed to donors to support an increased food assistance package to help many of the 149,000 Burundian refugees in camps in Tanzania to return home. WFP and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warned that without funding, the initiative may collapse.
While security has improved significantly in Burundi, refugees say that with improved food security, there would be better prospects for return to Burundi
Bo Schack, UNHCR Representative in Burundi
WFP and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warned that without funding, the initiative may collapse. Since April this year, WFP has provided a four-month food ration to Burundian refugees returning from Tanzania.
WFP and its partner Caritas will now provide a six-month ration, helping families through their first difficult months before their first harvest in Burundi.
Speeding up returns
“We hope that this larger ration will speed up the pace of returns to Burundi this year,” said WFP Burundi Country Director Gerard van Dijk.
“But unless new contributions arrive now, we will have to cut rations across the board to everyone we assist or face a complete break in supplies in December.”
Without new funds, both the returnee rations and food assistance for 815,000 hungry people in Burundi are in jeopardy. WFP urgently needs US$20 million to continue its work in Burundi, one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.
Van Dijk also noted that it is “particularly worrying that we are in a funding crunch at the same time as the Government of Tanzania is pushing for more refugees to return home. We need to be able to tell families considering a return that they can count on food and other aid to help them.”
Returning refugees receive a two-month ration as they start their journey in Tanzania, and can then use vouchers to collect the remaining four-month entitlement close to their homes in Burundi.
Forty-five permanent distribution centres and 72 mobile distribution facilities have been set up in the provinces.
“While security has improved significantly in Burundi, refugees say that with improved food security, there would be better prospects for return to Burundi.” said Bo Schack, UNHCR Representative in Burundi.
“The increased food package is an important step in our joint effort to help returnees reintegrate in their home communities. We are appealing for strong donor support for this initiative,” he said.
In a similar bid to boost repatriation to Burundi, UNHCR introduced a cash grant initiative in July. Each returnee from the camps in Tanzania receives the equivalent of almost $50 upon arrival to buy essential goods.
Some 6,000 Burundian refugees have returned home since the launch of the cash initiative -- more than half of the over 10,000 who have returned home since the beginning of the year.
Schack said that refugees appreciated the cash grant programme, which boosted returns over the last several weeks.
“In a poor country like Burundi, these cash grants are of crucial importance for those who have to rebuild their lives from zero.” he said. “Many returnees use this money to repair their homes which were damaged in the war, or to buy animals or seeds in order to start farming.”
Since 2002, more than 340,000 refugees have returned voluntarily to Burundi. The Government of Tanzania is pushing for more refugees to return to Burundi, arguing that the central African nation is now at peace.
Burundi is recovering from more than a decade of civil war. In 1972 and again in 1993, inter-ethnic violence forced hundreds of thousands of Burundians to flee to neighbouring countries. Over three decades, Tanzania has provided refuge to most of these Burundian refugees.
Today, Tanzania hosts nearly half a million refugees, making it one of the largest asylum countries in Africa.
In addition to some 110,000 Congolese refugees, the 149,000 Burundian refugees live in camps in northwestern Tanzania, where they receive assistance from UNHCR and WFP. According to government estimates, another 200,000 Burundian refugees live outside the camps.