Some 8,500 Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1972 are to be resettled in the United States this year and the first batch of 88 flew from Kibondo Camp in western Tanzania this morning to the Kenyan capital Nairobi en route to their new US homes.
Some 3,000 of the "1972 Burundian refugees" - about 35 percent of the number accepted for resettlement - are expected to leave Kibondo for Nairobi and then travel on to various US cities, such as Atlanta and Phoenix, over the next 15 weeks. The whole process is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
The operation is being organized by the US government, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR. Before their departure from Nairobi, the refugees will undergo an orientation workshop organized by IOM. This will help prepare them for a new life in the US and ease their integration.
The "1972 Burundians" represent one of the world's most protracted refugee situations, and resettlement is the only viable durable solution for most of them. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled to neighbouring countries that year to escape ethnic violence which killed an estimated 200,000 people. Children of these refugees born in exile were also being considered for resettlement in the US.
Some of the refugees have been displaced several times in the Great Lakes region. In 1972, thousands of the Burundians fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. But they had to move to Tanzania when conflict erupted in these countries in the 1990s. At the same time, some Burundians returned home after several years of exile but had to seek sanctuary in neighbouring countries once more when a new wave of violence swept their country.
While repatriation of Burundian refugees remains a priority, we believe that successful repatriation and reintegration of this particular group is not possible. After nearly 35 years in exile, they would face complex and unresolved land issues. Moreover, some refugees believe they are viewed as outsiders and would never be able to fully integrate in Burundi. Those born in exile identify closely with their host country, Tanzania, but it cannot offer them local integration.
Tanzania still hosts some 276,000 refugees, mainly from Burundi and the DRC.