Aid plea for repatriating refugees

Action by Churches Together (ACT), a network of churches and humanitarian agencies, appealed on Wednesday for US $150,208 to help thousands of Burundian refugees said to be spontaneously returning home from camps in western Tanzania.

In its appeal, issued from Geneva, ACT said that since 1 May, when there was a change of presidency in Burundi, many refugees in five camps in Kibondo District had opted to go back home before official repatriation plans were concluded.

In May, ACT said, 5,500 refugees returned spontaneously to Burundi.

The government of Tanzania, in conjunction with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and ACT, through the Lutheran World Federation, set up the first refugee camp in Kibondo in 1994 following a failed coup in Burundi in October 1993, which caused a large number of people to flee into Tanzania.

ACT said since 1994, the number of camps had increased to five, hosting about 165,190 refugees.

"The Lutheran World Federation, with UNHCR collaboration, would like to provide some minimum assistance," ACT said.

The aid includes construction and managing transit centres, provision of water and sanitation facilities, security, luggage bags and transport.

Meanwhile, an international refugee advocacy group, Refugees International (RI), said it recently sent an assessment mission to Tanzania, which found that the refugees were facing difficult conditions in the camps: a reduction in food rations and a restriction of movement imposed by the government.

RI urged the UNHCR to "protect and search for solutions for refugees".

RI said the flow of refugees from Burundi to Tanzania was "now greater that the movement home" because of intensified fighting in some areas in Burundi.

UNHCR said that at least 15,000 people had arrived from Burundi in the past 12 months. "Tanzania's 357,000 refugees in camps along the Burundian border face increasing impoverishment and insecurity," RI reported in a statement.

Among other recommendations, RI said the UNHCR should fulfil its protection mandate by filling vacancies for protection officers with competent staff, and appealed to donors to fund appeals for aid to refugees in the Tanzanian camps.

It urged the government of Tanzania immediately ease restrictions on refugees' freedom of movement in and around the camps.