As the Burundi refugee crisis approaches its fifth year, some 390,000 Burundian refugees are being generously hosted by the Governments and people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, 349,000 of whom are assisted through the Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan. While smaller numbers of asylum seekers continue to arrive throughout the region, voluntary returns to Burundi have increased in the last year with more than 55,000 assisted to repatriate as of November 2018.
The situation in Burundi remains complex. Overall security has improved but significant human rights concerns persist, and the underlying political conflict that sparked the conditions causing people to flee remains unresolved. In this context, UNHCR and partners are not promoting refugee returns to Burundi, but are working with the governments involved to assist those who indicate they have made a free and informed choice to return voluntarily to do so in safety and dignify.
In my travels I have had the privilege to sit with Burundian refugees – from Nduta Camp in Tanzania to Nakivale Settlement in Uganda, and from Mahama Camp in Rwanda to the Mulongwe site in the Democratic Republic of Congo – listening to their struggles, fears, and aspirations. Amidst all of the compelling individual stories, one thing is clear: the Burundi refugee population is diverse, and every person and family circumstance is different. Even as some refugees are opting to return home, the majority will still require international protection for some time to come.
I regret that in 2018 the Burundi situation remained one of the least funded refugee crises in the world, the consequences of which were acutely felt with food cuts, lack of medicines, inadequate shelters, and overcrowded classrooms in countries of asylum. Refugees returning to Burundi, while by and large welcomed back, also faced food insecurity and a range of reintegration challenges.
At the same time I salute all partners for remaining steadfast in their dedication to create more dignified living conditions and foster hope for both refugees and returnees, despite scarce resources and fading international attention. I thank the host governments and communities that have continued to welcome and provide refuge.
And we extend our utmost appreciation to the donors who have supported our collective assistance efforts. We have recently made strides to better reflect your contributions, including both earmarked and un-earmarked funding in our funds tracking and communication materials.
The 2019-2020 Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) takes a comprehensive and solutions-oriented approach, with a continued emphasis on the inclusion of refugees in national systems, and integrated service delivery with host communities wherever possible. Greater self-reliance and the opportunity for refugees to contribute to their host countries remain the goals of socio-economic inclusion and livelihood activities.
The emphasis on solutions is also reflected in the 2019 Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan developed by inter-agency partners in Burundi, a summary of which has been included in this document alongside summaries of the respective Country Refugee Response Plans in order to more comprehensively present the full regional response.
As we look forward to the era of implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees, informed by all of our experience to date in the application of the principles and goals of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework in this region, let us work together to realise the promise of greater international responsibility sharing in the pursuit of comprehensive solutions for Burundian refugees.
UNHCR Regional Refugee Coordinator and CRRF
Champion for the Burundi Situation