A Total of 34,052 former Burundian refugees from Mtabila refugee camp in north-west Tanzania have peacefully returned to their mother land while assured of various social and security services for the next one year.
The camp which was scheduled to officially be closed on December, 31 this year is now empty after the efforts of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners who organized the return operation to support the governments of Tanzania and Burundi to help former refugees go back safely before the announced deadline which was agreed upon in a meeting with the two governments in Geneva in October this year.
Refugee status for Burundian refugees found not to be in need of international protection and asylum at Mtabila refugees’ camp which was formally closed in August 2012 following individual interviews meant to assess protection needs.
According to the press statement from the UNHCR, the returned group of refugees was among the last of the population of refugees who left Burundi some 20 years ago.
It further stated that despite some logistical constraints and operational challenges, efforts have been deployed by all parties involved to ensure that the process was conducted in full compliance with human rights and humanitarian standards.
With 25 percent of the returnees identified as vulnerable people including pregnant women, mentally and physically challenged people, chronically ill, unaccompanied minors, elderly and single parents; specific attention and continued support was provided throughout the operation.
However the successful completion of the return of the refugees is attributed mainly to the cooperation between all partners, mainly the two governments, the International Organization of Migration, the World Food Program, the International Rescue Committee and the Tanzania Red Cross.
Meanwhile, continuous dialogue and communication between all stakeholders, including the donor community, as well as professionalism and dedication ensured the inevitable challenges were addressed as quickly as possible to guarantee a smooth return operation.
UNHCR Acting Representative in Tanzania Ms. Chansa Kapaya acknowledged that the government of Tanzania has to be congratulated for its commitment to adhere to the principles of order, safety and dignity in serving the lives of the returnees.
To assist them in starting new lives in Burundi, the Burundian government together with UNHCR and its partners in Burundi will be present throughout the reintegration process as UNHCR Representative in Burundi Catherine Huck declared.
“We have done our best to ensure immediate basic needs of returnees are addressed. This included ensuring sick people received adequate medical treatment and access to medical treatment for a period of one year, cash grant and food ration are distributed for six months and separated members of the families are reunited, pending development agencies take over the lasting reintegration,” said Huck.