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BURUNDI: Returnees find a new place to call home

BUJUMBURA, 26 April 2010 (IRIN) - Just 2km from the Tanzanian border, the “integrated” rural village of Nyakazi in Kibago commune, Makamba Province, houses 198 families, 80 percent of whom are landless returnees.

The village is one of several set up in the southern region of Burundi to help in the reintegration of thousands of 1972 civil war returnees.

One, Phenias Gisahara, was repatriated from Tanzania in 2009, with his wife and four children, and returned to his village of origin in Bubanza (in the west) only to find his land occupied; a primary school and a hospital stood where his home used to be. He eventually found his way to Nyakazi.

Cases such as Gisahara's led to the creation of the integrated villages, said the UN Refugee Agency's (UNHCR) representative in Burundi, Clémentine Nkweta-Salami.

"They [the returnees] were happy to repatriate, but had no relatives. To them, Ruyigi [in the northeast], or any other area for that matter, does not mean anything," said Nkweta-Salami.

The villages are built on the concept of peace villages, which were meant to foster healing and reconciliation among the country's three ethnic groups - Hutu, Tutsi and Twa - at the end of a prolonged civil war.

Shared social facilities such as schools are provided in the villages to encourage integration with neighbouring communities. Sports and meetings are also organized.

However, there have been challenges, such as lack of access to health facilities and water due to implementation delays.

"The idea behind the rural integrated villages was to make them development poles for returnees and the communities surrounding them. They were meant to facilitate peaceful cohabitation with services accessible to residents and others; we therefore have to honour our pledges," Marceline Bararufise, Rutana Governor, said.

Access to land has also proved an obstacle to reintegration. At Nyakazi, about half the households have access to land for farming, said the site head, Boniface Rambo.

But even the available land comes with challenges. "We went to farm and some people brought machetes. If you plant cassava they uproot the crop. We fled an ethnic conflict but now we may face land conflict," said Gisahara.

This is leading to hopelessness, he said. "If we are begging now knowing that we will harvest one day or another we would keep the courage," he said.

Lack of work

A lack of jobs is also a concern. Uzia Nishimwe arrived in Nyakazi from Rogombo commune in the northwestern Cibitoke Province in early April and fears her food ration is running out.

"I don’t know what I will do after [the food runs out]. It seems here they live on petty jobs but we do not know where to go since we are new," said the mother of two.

Some of the returnees cross into Tanzania in search of work.

Planned income-generating activities have yet to start pending the release of funds, said a UN Development Programme (UNDP) field adviser, Matteo Frontini. The list of expected beneficiaries has also still to be validated.

Health matters

Returnees are forced to walk at least 12km to the nearest health centre or across the border into Tanzania. A lack of birth certificates is preventing children under five from accessing free treatment.

The International Medical Corps organizes weekly mobile clinics in the villages, said the Rutana promotion of health coordinator, Aloys Ndikuriyo.

Four hospitals have been identified in the southern provinces of Bururi, Makamba and Rutana to offer free medical care to the returnees, Chantal Hatungimana, the director of repatriation in the Ministry of National Solidarity, said.

At present, only three hospitals in the capital, Bujumbura, offer free care, locking out many returnees and vulnerable people in the provinces.

Work in progress

The villages are encouraging those without relatives in Burundi to repatriate.

"They raise hope and motivate people to repatriate. They [the returnees] see that even if there are still problems, they will get shelter. Otherwise where would they go?" the head of UNHCR in Makamba, Kouyou Wella said.

Nyakazi is one of 10 rural integrated villages, housing not only returnees but also vulnerable community members identified by the local administration.

A 6ha village is under construction at Nyabigina area, also in Makamba, which will host 200 families once completed in May.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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