The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has facilitated the repatriation of 38 Burundian refugees from Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa District, Malawi. These individuals volunteered to return to their home country. Out of a total of 161 refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo who expressed their willingness to go back, the remaining refugees are still on a waiting list.
The repatriated refugees departed from Malawi via Kamuzu International Airport at 2 AM today and are expected to arrive in Bujumbura, Burundi, at 1 PM. Their journey includes a connection and a three-hour layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Before their departure, the refugees received a briefing from UNHCR protection officer Ahmad Bashir, who informed them that officials from both UNHCR and the Burundi Government would welcome them upon their arrival in Burundi. Bashir also explained that the responsibility for the refugees’ reintegration into the community would lie with the Burundi Government. However, they would receive food and non-food items for three months, as well as $200 to assist with their settlement.
Hilda Kausiwa, the senior administration and operations manager at the Department of Refugees, highlighted that this is the largest group of refugees to voluntarily return to their home country. Kausiwa emphasized that voluntary repatriation is one of three ways refugees can lose their refugee status. She further assured the refugees that UNHCR would ensure their safety upon repatriation.
Ntirandekura Salatiel, a 40-year-old refugee who has resided in Dzaleka since 2011, expressed his gratitude to the Malawi Government and its people for the support and love shown to him throughout the years. However, he admitted to feeling uncertain about the future, having fled from a war. Despite facing challenges such as inadequate financial support, Salatiel stated that he had been able to live peacefully in the camp.
Earlier this year, the Malawi Police Service, with support from the Malawi Defence Force, arrested over 400 refugees and asylum-seekers in Lilongwe. They were initially held at Maula Prison before being transferred to Dzaleka Camp. This crackdown occurred approximately two months after the government issued an ultimatum for people to return to the overcrowded Dzaleka Camp