UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi has called on Burundi and the DRC to create a conducive environment in their countries that will support refugees, who want to return to their home countries voluntarily.
Mr Grandi said sustainable refugee return happened, when refugees felt confident it was safe to go back home and receive necessary support to live and maintain themselves.
“It will not be possible to attain the planned figure for return as the exercise has been affected by limited capacity to receive returnees in both countries,” he said during his visit to Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Kasulu, Kigoma.
He noted that conditions were still uncertain in both Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), nevertheless some refugees were volunteering to return home and were supported by the UNHCR.
He also called for more international support to ensure refugees, who returned voluntarily were able to successfully reintegrate in their countries of origin, noting that current return packages and the ability to follow up returnees back in Burundi were insufficient.
Tanzania hosts more than 250,000 refugees from Burundi, most of whom fled their home country due to political upheaval in 2015.
Expounding on that he said additional funding was needed to increase the capacity of transit centres, hire safe transportation, address critical staffing shortages, continue providing modest return packages and improve a returnee monitoring framework in Burundi.
He noted that the UNHCR maintained that it would continue assisting and not promoting voluntary returns to Burundi due to an unresolved political situation.
The UNHCR and key partners agreed to implement a work plan to return 72,000 individuals from April 5 to December 31, 2018 in which they successfully assisted 57,865 returnees.
“We also call on the international community to step up support to ensure pressing humanitarian needs are addressed for the hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees, who remain in exile,” he insisted.
According to him Burundi’s situation is one of the least funded in the world. He thus said more funding was urgently needed to support reintegration programmes for refugees choosing to return home.
Mr Grandi pointed to Tanzania as a stable country in a troubled region and commended the country for its role as a regional peacemaker, urging the Tanzanian leadership to continue peace efforts.
While in Kigoma, the UNHCR boss pledged to increase support to refugees from Burundi and the DRC living in different camps in Kigoma Region, stating clearly that the Agency would bring back home only those, who had shown interest.
His remarks were a response to concerns raised by refugees that they were lacking food and better social services.
“We have heard all concerns and the UNHCR will do whatever is needed to mitigate challenges,” said the UNHCR boss at a press conference.
Mr Grandi said they would also mobilise budget for social activities in surrounding communities to refugee camps.
He added that priority would be given to conservation and education projects to enable the surrounding communities to benefit from the presence of refugee camps around their areas.
“I had an opportunity to meet with Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, where, among others, we agreed to bring back home all refugees, who will volunteer,” he said, adding: “But, peace is a main catalyst for them to get back home, the same had been said by President John Magufuli,” he noted.
Statistics have it that about 152,000 refugees are being hosted at Nyarugusu Camp, which has the capacity to accommodate only 50,000 refugees.