What happens when refugees return home? Read about our work in Burundi

Mar 6, 2017

Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We are working with returnees in Burundi, helping them to return home and secure land that is legally theirs.

Burundi has been rocked by decades of violence and is facing an unstable future, too. Conflict, violence, a volatile government and rising tensions means that peaceful interventions are now more important than ever.

As refugees who had to flee violence are beginning to return to Makamba province, they often find themselves in an extremely difficult situation: they do not have any land to come back to. The land they abandoned has been claimed by one or even two other people or families. Complex land laws and a lack of understanding of this situation mean that over 50% of the land in Makamba is contested.

In September, we partnered with Rema, a local organisation, to address this situation. As with many countries, religious leaders play a crucial and influential role in their community. We have teamed up with church leaders who’ve been selected to assist returnee women and orphaned children reclaim their land.

Alongside the leaders, we are closely working with Burundi’s National Land Commission (CNTB). CNTB was formed just over a decade ago to resettle returnees and tackle land grievances. Our close collaboration with them has been vital to the project’s success so far.

We have mobilised community forums, with a range of representatives including returnees, current occupants and CNTB officials, and they’ve helped identify the first tranche of people we are supporting. We are currently working closely with 100 vulnerable women and orphans to begin the official resettlement process.

We have already supported one woman to successfully recover her land and we expect three more cases to be concluded in April. The remaining cases have been scheduled by the CNTB for hearings in March. The process of land reclamation in Burundi can be lengthy due to the complex social and historical factors at play, so these achievements are promising for the project’s overall success. Over the next year, we plan to assist dozens more vulnerable people to reclaim their land and enable them to rebuild their lives.

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Catherine talks about her experiences as a refugee.

One refugee, Catherine Ndikumana is a representative of returnees in Makamba Province. Catherine attended and gave testimony at the Stakeholder Community Forum, which marked the beginning of our project and encouraged dialogue between people from different parts of the community. In the 1970s, she fled to Tanzania with her husband, leaving all their property behind in Makamba.

“We have experienced indescribable misery as refugees away from home. We were condemned to refugee life for years.”

Due to the costs of the court cases, Catherine suffers from poor living conditions. It has been nearly three years since she returned from exile but she is still yet to find a home or any land to cultivate. She feels humiliated and disillusioned when she helplessly watches other people exploiting her property.

Speaking about the workshop, Catherine says that she appreciates the opportunity to present the challenges she is facing.

We are proud to be working in such a difficult area and look forward to updating you on the story of Catherine and others, as we work alongside Rema to find them shelter and security once again.