1,200 Burundian refugees return as transit camp closes

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday it had closed the Gikonko transit site in southern Rwanda and that most of the Burundian refugees there had returned home.

"More than 1,200 repatriated to Burundi with UNHCR assistance, while 740 were transferred to Nyamure Camp just to the north [of Rwanda]," Volker Schimmel, the agency's spokesman in Kigali, said.

Gikonko, in the district of Mamba in Rwanda's Butare Province, would be dismantled shortly, he said. UNHCR first hosted refugees at the site in September 2004, when Burundians started fleeing amid fears of violence during the country's election campaign.

Some 4,000 Burundian refugees remain in various camps in Rwanda but at least 3,100 others have returned home voluntarily since 30 June.

"Most of them spent a night in the Songore transit centre [in northern Burundi] before being transported to their areas of origin, mostly in the northern Kirundo Province," Schimmel said.

Once in Burundi, the returnees are monitored by UNHCR. Schimmel said the agency] worked with the Burundian government and other partners to support reintegration programmes that focused on rehabilitating schools and health centres, as well as income-generating activities.