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Conflict and Return Migration to Burundi

Nearly 600,000 formally registered refugees returned to Burundi between 2002 and 2014 (UNHCR 2014). The majority were repatriated from Tanzania, and slightly fewer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. The actual returned population was likely larger because these statistics only represent the returnees who were registered by UNHCR. Figure 1 provides an overview of return migrations to Burundi between 1993 and 2014 based on UNHCR data (UNHCR 2002, 2014). All statistics on return migration between 1993 and 2002 are estimates because no official international migration records were kept before 1993. As the figures show, many refugees returned to Burundi even during the war. In 1994, for example, an estimated 250,000-300,000 individuals went back to Burundi after having fled to Tanzania following the 1993 conflict. In the years following 1994, return migration to Burundi continued and gradually decreased.

Return to Burundi between 1993 and 2014 (in thousands). Source

Fig. 1 Return to Burundi between 1993 and 2014 (in thousands). Source: Data from UNHCR 2002, 2014

The return to Burundi increased again following the August 2000 signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreements, which incentivized many Burundians to return. Official repatriation from Tanzania, facilitated by the UNHCR and coorganized with the governments of Burundi and Tanzania, started in 2002. The UNHCR began repatriation from Rwanda in 2009 and initiated repatriation from the DRC in October 2010. Figure 1 also shows another peak in returns in 2012. This peak was the result of the closing of the last refugee camp in Tanzania, Mtabila, at the end of 2012. The camp’s closing forced another 30,000-35,000 former 1993 refugees to return to Burundi. In January 2014, more than 72,000 Burundian refugees were still residing abroad (UNHCR 2014).Based on the Migration and Development data used for the analyses in this chapter, it is possible to see that most returnees settled in southern Burundi, in the provinces bordering Tanzania. These were in most cases the returnees’ provinces of origin (Fransen 2015).

Many programs and projects were implemented in Burundi to support the former refugees. Returnees received support packages including food rations, educational supplies, and other non-food items. From 2007 onwards, returnees also received a cash grant (see Fransen and Kuschminder 2012, for a detailed overview). The UNHCR also implemented a shelter program that provided house-building materials for one-third of the most vulnerable returnees each year (Fransen and Kuschminder 2012). Returnees who had no place to go “back” to were classified as “despersonnes sans terre ni reference’ (i.e., people with neither land nor reference). These returnees comprised mostly 1972 refugees and second-generation returnees, who were housed in specifically designed villages—the rural integrated villages (VRIs) (Fransen and Kuschminder 2014).

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