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Challenges await Burundian refugees expelled from Tanzania

UNICEF Image: Burundi, Tanzania, Refugees
© UNICEF/2007/Ajia
Anita, 17, and her two-year-old son were expelled from Tanzania with no papers. UNICEF and its partners will support her in a transit camp until an alternative arrangement can be made.

By Miranda Eeles

MUYINGA, Burundi, 5 December 2007 – Chantal Nizigiyimana has been back in her home country of Burundi for only a few months, having lived in Tanzania since she was a young child. In 1993, her family was among hundreds of thousands of Burundians who fled across the border in order to avoid conflict.

Now, all Burundians are being asked to return home. Ms. Nizigiyimana is among approximately 9,000 people – half of them youths – who have been expelled from Tanzania just this year. Many women and children arrive at the border with nothing to their name.

Ms. Nizigiyimana and her two-year-old son attempted to return to Burundi but were not allowed to cross the border without papers. Instead, they were redirected to the Kinasi transit camp.

Nowhere else to go

The Kinasi camp is being supported by UNICEF along with several partners such as the World Food Programme and a government agency known as the Project for the Support of the Repatriation and Reintegration of War Affected Persons (PARESI).

“Some of the women have been living in the camp for more than eight months,” said PARESI’s Louis Ndaruseheye. “They have suffered a lot – from expulsion to separation from their families. Their situation is extremely difficult as they have no money, no possessions and nowhere to go.”

Many women and children at the Kinasi camp are classified as ‘sans reference’, meaning they left Burundi so long ago that they no longer have any land and their former communities do not recognize them. Some were born in Tanzania and lack any direct ties to their parents’ country.

UNICEF Image: Burundi, Tanzania, Refugees
© UNICEF/2007/Eeles
Safe water is delivered to this transit camp regularly through Solidarite, one of UNICEF's partner organizations.

Family histories and land rights

If efforts to trace land rights or family members in Burundi are not successful, displaced persons will be placed in temporary shelters that UNICEF and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have built at four separate locations around the country.

More than 100,000 refugees are expected to return from Tanzania over the next 12 months. To try and resolve the problem of resettlement, a commission has been set up by the Government of Burundi, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.

The hope is that when more funds become available, the government can buy land and help displaced families settle.

Starting a new life

Ms. Nizigiyimana stayed in the Kinasi camp for three days, while PARESI and the Red Cross tried to trace her family members. Finally, they located an old friend of her family who was willing to provide a house and a small plot of land.

To help Ms. Nizigiyimana start her new life, UNICEF supplied her with enough non-food items to last three months – including plastic sheeting, a kitchen set, clothes for her and her son, a mosquito net and soap.

“I am happy to be back in my country,” Ms. Nizigiyimana said as she sat weaving a basket outside her new house. “I have been given a chance to start a new life. At the moment I am cultivating crops for other people, but I am looking forward to buying my own land soon so I can grow my own crops.”




November 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports on Burundians who were expelled from Tanzania and their struggle to rebuild their lives.
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