As the Burundi refugee crisis approaches its sixth year, some 367,000 Burundian refugees are being generously hosted by the Governments and people of the Democratic Republic of Congo,
Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, about 326,000 of whom are assisted through the Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan. Voluntary returns to Burundi continued in 2019 with nearly 80,000 people assisted to repatriate from September 2017 to December 2019, the vast majority from Tanzania. At the same time, some 500 to 1000 Burundian asylum seekers continue to arrive throughout the region each month.
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 the run up to the elections planned for May 2020. 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. It is clear that the Burundi refugee population across the region is diverse, and every personal 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.
In taking up my responsibilities as the Director for UNHCR’s newly established Regional Bureau for East and Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes, I am conversant with the Burundi situation by my previous experience working as the UNHCR Representative in Burundi during a different era, as well as having held different positions in several of the major countries of asylum. From my experience with previous iterations of the Burundi refugee situation, and in following closely its current context, I am motivated to ensure that UNHCR is steadfast and proactive in leading the multi-agency response and collaborating closely with partners in pursuit of effective protection and eventual solutions for Burundian refugees.
Regretfully, in 2019 the Burundi situation remained one of the least funded refugee situations in the world, the consequences of which were acutely felt with inadequate shelters, insufficient domestic items (blankets, soap), lack of medicines, and overcrowded classrooms in countries of asylum. Refugees returning to Burundi, while they were by and large all welcomed back, also faced food insecurity and a range of reintegration challenges.
I would like to thank all our 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. My utmost appreciation goes also to the host governments and communities that have continued to generously welcome them and provide safe refuge. I particularly want to thank all of the donors who support our collective protection and assistance efforts. We continue to seek to better reflect your contributions, including both earmarked and unearmarked funding in our funds tracking and communication materials.
The updated 2019-2020 Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan (Regional RRP) continues to take a comprehensive and solutionsoriented 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 as reflected in the Global Compact on Refugees.
The emphasis on solutions is also reflected in the updated 2020 Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan developed by interagency 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 comprehensively present the full regional response.
This Regional RRP is being published following the first ever Global Refugee Forum in December 2019. As we look forward to the era of implementation of the pledges made there in line with 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 continue to work together to realise the promise of greater international responsibility sharing in the pursuit of comprehensive solutions for Burundian refugees.