A total of 603 Burundi refugees who have been in Uganda for close to ten years started a voluntary repatriation to their home country today, Monday, 14 December, 2020.
Under the Uganda/Burundi/UNHCR tripartite Commission on the Voluntary Repatriation of Burundi Refugees in Uganda, the first batch of 61 refugees left Entebbe for Bujumbura through Entebbe International Airport, aboard a chartered Uganda Airlines flight, yesterday.
The ramaining numbers will travel in separate batches in the coming days.
As part of adherence to measures to prevent the spread of Covid 19, all those repatriated have been tested and found negative of Covid- 19, 72 hours before departure.
They were accompanied on the flight by Godfrey Byaruhanga and Arthur Mugarura from the Office of the Prime Minister and Dancun Mato from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR.)
David Kazungu, the Commissioner for Refugees in the Office of the Prime Minister, which oversees refugee operations in the country, said that the individuals who are returning to Burundi voluntarily registered and expressed their desire to return to their home country.
The refugees spoken to before departure appreciated the generosity of the leadership and people of Uganda for hosting them for many years.
In particular, they thanked President Yoweri Museveni for his “consistent spirit of pan Africanism and for championing a progressive and open door refugee policy that welcomes people who flee to Uganda’s shores in search of safety and security.”
Uganda currently hosts over 1.4 million refugee coming from different countries in the region, including South Sudan, DRC, Rwanda, Somalia and Eritrea.
Commenting on the development, Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda welcomed the news and praised the generosity of host communities who have lived and sheltered the refugees for many years.
“As we have always observed, no one ever chooses to be a refugee. So it is only proper to treat people who flee their homes in search of safety and security, humanely, with dignity and respect. We also thank our partners, especially the UNHCR, the World Bank and others for their long-standing solidarity with Uganda in supporting refugees and host communities. I am therefore pleased that these brothers and sisters have made a voluntary decision to return to their home country,” the Prime Minister said.
The repatriation flights have been organised and funded by UNHCR.
A total of 333,702 Burundian Refugees lived in Uganda as of June 30, 2020, according to refugee agencies.
Over 333,000 Burundian refugees remained in exile in the four main refugee hosting countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, and with the closure of borders in the region, no new arrivals have been registered.