The sociopolitical and economic situation stemming from the political crisis in 2015 in Burundi continues to impact the lives of the most vulnerable, leading to an increase of humanitarian needs as well as ongoing external and internal displacement.
To date, over 410,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries. Tanzania hosts more than half of the Burundian refugees in the region, while the rest are mainly in Rwanda, DRC and Uganda. Following Tanzania’s revocation of the prima facie policy in January 2017, the number of asylum seekers who have been able to cross the border has reduced considerably.
The Government of Burundi has encouraged the return of all Burundian refugees. On 31 August 2017 in Dar es Salaam, the Governments of Tanzania, Burundi and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees held a Tripartite Commission meeting and agreed to work together to assist the voluntary repatriation of over 12,900 refugees who had by then registered their desire to return.
A first phase started on 7 September and ended on 31 October 2017, through which 6,888 refugees were assisted to return in an organized manner. For the second phase, from 1 November to 31 December 2017, another estimated 6,032 refugees will be assisted. For 2018 inter-agency partners are planning for an estimated 60,000 returns, mainly from Tanzania with the possibility of smaller numbers of returns from other asylum countries.
It should be noted that although the UN has acknowledged some positive developments in Burundi in recent months, UNHCR is not yet at the stage of promoting returns pending conclusion of the ongoing political dialogue process. At the same time, UNHCR is ready to assist those refugees who expresses the desire to return to Burundi, as long as the decision is voluntary and based on a free and informed choice.
In the current socio-economic and political situation, it is critical to work jointly to support a sustainable integration of those refugees who have chosen to return. The UN system, NGOs and other partners will work together and in cooperation with the Government of Burundi to ensure that refugees return voluntarily, in safety and dignity, and that they enjoy the same rights as other citizens. Partners will support the reintegration process for those refugees who are assisted to return, as well those who have already or may opt to return on their own.
Conditions for Return
Refugee returns are taking place against a backdrop of very challenging conditions in Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world, with some of the most acute and chronic needs and where currently more than 3 million Burundians are in need of humanitarian assistance: one out of four Burundians is expected to be at emergency levels of food insecurity by the end of the year; malaria affects most of the country with 6.2 million cases in a country of 11.6 million people, and which has caused 2,700 deaths thus far; one out of four Burundians has no or limited access to water; the delivery of basic services like health and education are under risk due to severe reductions in the state budget and protection concerns including the safety of minors and gender-based violence have increased in a context of socio-economic decline. The majority of the emergency affected population are children (39%), while 32% are women. Women endure extreme hardships, such as increased violence and insecurity (including ‘’survival sex’’), restricted mobility and additional domestic and livelihoods responsibilities. In addition, the trauma on women and girls represents a serious concern and a social destabilization risk.
At the same time, Burundi continues to register high levels of displacement: the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) recorded in the country amounts to nearly 190,000. Some 35 per cent of these IDPs have been displaced for social and political reasons, while 65 per cent were forced out of their homes due to natural hazards or socio-economic reasons. Almost two out of three have noted severe food insecurity as a reason for leaving their homes.
Refugee returns and further displacement will put additional pressure on already extremely vulnerable and fragile communities. Resentment of the assistance received by returnees could increase social tensions, conflict and protection risks. For these reasons, it is essential that the resilience of the host communities and IDP populations is reinforced in order to support the sustainable integration of the returnees. This includes access to the most essential services for all at community level. Failure to do so could lead to an increase in conflict, protection risks, epidemics, further internal or external displacement and a new spike in urgent humanitarian needs. Particular attention must be given to the protection challenges faced by returning and other emergency affected women and girls.
Further to the current return of refugees and in order to ensure sustainable reintegration, UN agencies and NGOs in collaboration with the national authorities will carry out participatory needs assessments in communities of return. This will allow partners to identify short to mid-term needs. A multi-sectoral and genderresponse plan based on these participatory assessments will respond to identified risks and support the prevention of potential conflicts. Returnee protection monitoring will be undertaken so as to identify potential risks and needs for immediate response and that will feed into the design of longer term social cohesion and conflict prevention activities at the community level. Protection monitoring at borders will also be enhanced.
Through this plan, the humanitarian and development community, in collaboration with the Burundian authorities, will work to meet the following needs with priority attention given to women, children, young and marginalized people:
• Ensuring a dignified and efficient reception of returnees including registration, profiling, support at the border and the transit centers, transport, as well as the provision of immediate assistance for the most vulnerable.
• Creating a safe environment and ensuring access to essential services including food, safe and adequate shelter, water and sanitation, health and nutrition, education, and protection as well as critical infrastructure and income generating and self-reliance opportunities. This includes supporting service provision in the communities of return.
• Ensuring durable solutions for displacement-affected populations, including IDPs, in the areas of return.
• Supporting and reinforcing existing social capital assets that can facilitate mediation and conflict resolution efforts for the peaceful coexistance of commnunities.