UNHCR/WFP: Report of the joint assessment mission of Burundian returnees, 07-11 May 2007

Originally published

For over 30 years Burundi experienced recurring socio-political crises. A civil war in 1993 had disastrous effects. Since all but one of the parties to the conflict signed Peace Agreements in Arusha in 2001, the country has been making progress. The last party to the conflict, the Front National de Liberation (FNL Palipe-Hutu) signed a cease-fire agreement in September 2006, however, while there is a cease-fire, the terms of the agreement have not been implemented.

In 1972, some 200,000 refugees fled to neighbouring countries. These were followed by some 400,000 who fled in 1993, mainly to Tanzania (UNHCR). In addition, since 1993, some 880,000 were displaced internally and some 300,000 died (OCHA). Spontaneous repatriation was noticeable in 2001. The Governments of Burundi and Tanzania and UNHCR signed a Tripartite Agreement covering repatriation on 15 January 2002. UNHCR began facilitating repatriation from the refugee camps in western Tanzania in 2002. In June 2006, UNHCR began promoting repatriation. Between 2002 and the end of 2006, 340,000 persons returned, of whom 22 per cent spontaneously and 78 per cent facilitated. By the end of April, some 3,000 had repatriated in 2007. This rate, if continued, will fall far short of the original or revised expectations of repatriations in 2007 of 80,000 and 65,000 respectively. Some 150,000 refugees remain in camps in Tanzania.

A number of reports on specific aspects of the reintegration of returnees exist, particularly those prepared by UNHCR's partners. The Joint WFP/FAO/UNHCR Needs Assessment Mission in March-April 2006 in preparation for WFP's PRRO in Burundi recommended that UNHCR and WFP should begin a joint review to evaluate the needs and targeting of returnees in terms of food. As successful reintegration does not depend on food alone, the organisations subsequently agreed to widen the scope of the review to include the principal issues in return.

The first part of the review consisted of a survey of returnees, with a control group of persons who had not left their colline during the crises. This survey was carried out by the Institut des Statistiques et d'Etudes Economiques du Burundi (ISTEEBU) in late 2006-early 2007. It included the socio-demographic nature of households surveyed, education, economic activity, nature of ID documents, information on why and from where returnees had returned, health in the last three months, type of house, security and relationship with neighbours, food security, agriculture, livestock and other sources of income, income and expenditure. ISTEEBU presented its report in March 2007.

In the second part of the review, a Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) visited four key provinces of return. The government, eight UN agencies, one NGO and representatives of four major donors formed the JAM. It divided into two teams, one covering Kirundo and Muyinga in the north-east, the second Makamba and Rutana in the south-east. They were joined in the field by local government officials and NGOs working in the areas as well as WFP and UNHCR in those provinces. This mission took place 7-11 May 2007. (List of participants attached as Annexe 2).

The JAM's main objectives included assessing if information contained in the various reports could be confirmed. During the field visits, the JAM spoke to government officials, staff of UN agencies and NGOs, returnees and non-returnees, staff in schools and health centres as well as children and patients. The JAM's report would pull together previously collected information and its own findings with a view to establishing reliable data on which to base programme and policy decisions in the short and longer term. (Full Terms of Reference attached as Annexe 1) A map is attached as Annexe 3.


The repatriation, in terms of immediate reintegration, is achieving its goals successfully. While there may be isolated cases of discrimination and there are certainly cases where returnees have difficulty in recovering their land, the vast majority reintegrate quickly. Returnees quickly, within a matter of months, find themselves in the same situation as their neighbours - although it takes one year, a full agricultural cycle, to be truly on the same footing.

While immediate reintegration has posed few serious problems, the situation for everyone, returnees and non-returnees alike, is far from satisfactory in terms of food security, income generating possibilities and access to services.

Some protection failings were noted - cf. Findings, Part 1 below. However, in this post-conflict situation, the non-returnee population is affected by most of the same problems, which are of a human rights nature rather that specifically related to return - including sporadic incidents of revenge related to the conflict, the FNL Palipe-Hutu's continuing recruitment, food insecurity, documentation, access to services, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

Land is a major issue (1). The population density is 250 persons, rising to over 400 in arable areas, per square km. On average, access to land means access to 0.7 ha, down to 0.4 ha for some 40 per cent of the population of the central plateau. Some 90 per cent of the population is land dependent (agriculture and livestock), but land-based activities constitute less than half of total GDP. (Projet d'appui a la Politique Nationale de Population (PNP), 2002) Population growth rate is 3.4 per cent.

Land ownership is widespread. WFP's Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment Report, September 2004, gives land ownership at 91 per cent (lowest in Bubanza at 78 per cent, highest in Muramvya and Mwaro at 99 per cent) and rental at 26 per cent (lowest in Mwaro at 7 per cent, highest in Ruyigi at 38 per cent). The World Bank's survey on basic indicators for well-being (QUIBB report 2006) gave very similar results for land ownership. In rural areas, 90.3 per cent of households own land (lowest in Bubanza at 81.8 per cent, highest in Makamba at 96.5 per cent).

Figures are not available for returnees who own land, but ISTEEBU (2) reports that 86.7 and 89.2 per cent respectively of returnees and control group have access to land.

Disputes relating to land are frequent. A CED CARITAS/Burundi survey in 2005 identified 33,764 disputes related to land, of which 56.3 per cent are linked to Burundi's various conflicts. (Commission National des Terres et Autres Biens (CNTB), submission to Peace Fund Committee, 2007) The Ligue Iteka (3) 2006 report says that 51 murders in 2006 were related to land disputes.

Opportunities for non-land-based work are extremely limited overall and almost nonexistent in rural areas.

Access to health and education services is inadequate. Distance is frequently an issue, but also the adequacy of the services provided. More health centers and schools are needed and, in general, they lack water, sanitation, staff, and supplies.

One issue which is returnee specific is the duration of the status of "returnee". Regardless of the date of return, returnees continue to be known as/consider themselves to be, returnees. Establishing a limit would eliminate ambiguities about their status and would help ensure their reincorporation as Burundians like all others. The tendency to see them as the responsibility of UNHCR and its partners can act against them when seeking assistance.

Although outside the terms of reference, in the north-east, the JAM came across the plight of the Burundians being expelled from Tanzania. These are Burundians who have no immigration status in Tanzania. These expulsions began in May 2006 and take place in a disorganised manner, with no legal framework agreed between the two countries. To date, some 8,000 (ECHO) persons have been expelled. It is possible there are refoules among them. PARESI and the Burundian Red Cross are responsible for the group, with UNICEF as the lead UN agency. These people, upon return, have the same need for support in reintegration as other returnees.


(1) A comprehensive study of the land situation in Burundi and the implications for repatriations was commissioned by FAO and carried out by a consultant, Charles Ntampaka, who reported in February 2006. The report not only covers the various players, legislation and conflicts, but also the difficulties faced specifically by the 1972 and 1993 groups of returnees, with explanations. The report is titled: La question foncière au Burundi., Implications pour le retour des réfugies, la consolidation de la paix et développement rural

(2) The ISTEEBU (Institut de Statistiques et d'Edudes Economiques du Burundi) survey was carried out at the request of UNHCR and WFP in late 2006-early 2007. The control group in the survey consisted of persons/families who had remained on their colline throughout the crisis

(3) The Ligue Iteka is a well-established Burundian human rights organisation