Nearly 100 Burundian refugees return home from Rwanda after nine years

On 22 February 2024 at 10:19

After spending nine years as refugees in Rwanda, a group of nearly 100 Burundians expressed joy and relief upon returning to their homeland, highlighting their hope for enduring peace to prevent future displacement.

Rwanda facilitated the repatriation of 95 Burundian refugees, comprising 75 individuals from Mahama camp, nine from Kigali, and 11 from Bugesera District, in response to their expressed desire to return.

The returnees embarked on their journey from Mahama camp to the Nemba border post early in the morning, with the first individual arriving in Burundi by early afternoon.

Interviews with IGIHE revealed that many refugees felt a deep yearning for their homeland, having spent over eight years away. Egide Kamananga, one of the returnees, recounted how he had managed to support his children’s education from afar through the money he earned while in exile.

"The longing for home was overwhelming. I’m grateful to be back after so long. In the camp, I was able to make some money for my children’s education. It was the reason for my delayed return, but I always missed them," Kamananga said.

Another returnee, preferring anonymity, expressed happiness about returning but emphasized the importance of establishing peace to avoid future displacement.

The refugees commended Rwanda for its treatment, with many seeing the country as a benchmark in human rights.

Kamananga also noted that his time in Rwanda provided him with valuable experiences that he will carry forward in Burundi.

The repatriation process, supported by UN Refugee Agencies in both Rwanda and Burundi, ensured the returnees received healthcare, supplies, and short-term food assistance to aid their reintegration.

However, not all who initially requested to return followed through. André Vuganeza, the manager of Mahama camp, explained that return requests are carefully evaluated, but individuals are free to withdraw their request at any point, even at the last minute.

"Some decide to stay influenced by others or change their minds upon reaching the minimum group size for repatriation. It’s a personal decision, and we respect their right to reconsider," Vuganeza stated.

Despite some choosing to stay, those who returned did so of their own accord, underlining the need for the Burundian government to prioritize citizen safety and security.

Rwanda hosts over 40,000 Burundian refugees who fled the 2015 unrest triggered by an unsuccessful coup attempt against then-President Pierre Nkurunziza.