UN-EU support repatriation and reintegration of war affected populations in Burundi

Burundi hair cut
Jean-Marie, one of the beneficiaries of the UNDP employment creation programme in Burundi. Photo: UNDP/Burundi/Aude Rossignol

Burundi suffered from 1993 to 2007 an armed conflict which led to an exodus of large numbers of civilians. In recent years, and following a peace process initiated in 2007, many conflict affected populations started to return to their places of origin. The provinces of Bururi, Makamba and Rutana in Southern Burundi have seen the highest numbers of returnees in the country, including refugees, internally displaced people and former combatants.

Thousands of them, lacking access to land or basic services, were relocated in Integrated Rural Villages (IRV) built in the Southern provinces of the country. Upon return, the returnees receive a roof and a small plot of land of 3 acres in one of these peace villages. Although this support constitutes an important step towards a better life, it is not enough to cover the basic needs of a family and ensure their successful reintegration.

Programme highlights

  • This inter-agency programme is a good example of UN collaboration in support of vulnerable communities in a war-affected country
  • The UNDP component received a total support of EUR 2.9 million for 3 years (August 2011 to August 2014).
  • UNDP component aims to promote socio-economic reintegration of returnees through promotion of productive activities and local entrepreneurship in war-torn Burundi

This is why, with the help of the European Union, 3 UN Agencies – UNDP, UNICEF and FAO –have jointly supported a Government programme aiming to improve the living conditions of returnees relocated in the IRVs and the most vulnerable populations in surrounding communities. UNICEF supported construction of water supply and sanitation infrastructure. FAO has developed agricultural activities to ensure better nutrition. And UNDP has supported productive activities and the promotion of local entrepreneurship.

Jean-Marie, aged 43, is one of the beneficiaries of this programme. He spent many years exiled in Tanzania following the horrors of war. Believing that life could be better in Burundi, he decided to return in 2007 to his homeland with his wife and children. “We were first placed at a transit center where we stayed for 3 years, with only a tent as a roof. In 2010, we obtained housing within the IRV in Nkurye. When we arrived there, there was no work. The inhabitants of the IRV only received food assistance essential to their survival”.

Jean-Marie was targeted to participate at the UNDP employment creation programme. For 3 months, he got a job as construction worker for the building of the Giharo central market. With his earnings, he was able to buy two goats, feed his children, and pay the required financial contribution to join an Income Generating Association. "Our project was to create a double business equipped with a solar panel – both a hair-salon and a shop for recharging mobile shops”, he explains. “We managed to open our business, with support from UNDP, 10 months ago. The place is always full. A man’s hair-cut costs 400 BIF (Burundi Francs) and the mobile phone recharge 300 BIF. We have plenty of customers. Thanks to this initiative, our lives are better, and my children can today go to school”. Proud of their success, Jean-Marie aims high, and hopes to expand the site soon and acquire additional solar panels.

In his view, the project has greatly contributed to strengthen social cohesion in war-torn Burundi. “Initially, it was difficult to make contacts with people in host communities established around the IRV. But with time, programme participants, regardless of their origins, got to know each other and became friends. Now when we get together for meetings, if a member has a problem, he speaks to the group and finds solace. Members help to find solutions to individual and collective concerns”. In order to prove his point, Jean-Marie cites the following example: “A month ago, one of my close friends fell seriously ill and was hospitalized in Bujumbura. Members lent me money to buy a bus ticket to be able to go to the capital city and help my friend. I am infinitely grateful to the partners of the Association for their friendship and by this gesture of solidarity".

Watch video on UN-EU support for reintegration of war affected populations in Burundi

This 17-minute video illustrates the main interventions and successes of this inter-agency programme. It provides evidence of the challenges faced by returnees and vulnerable communities in the Integrated Rural Village and shows the practical solutions developed on the ground with the support of UNDP, UNICEF and FAO.

Read more on the UNDP Burundi Country Office
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