14 March 2008The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for $6 million so that it can continue to feed up to 90,000 Burundian refugees returning to their home country from neighbouring Tanzania. The agency warned that without an influx of funds, it may have to halt its food assistance by May or June when the returns are expected to peak. “WFP needs donors to provide for the vital needs of the returnees – most of whom are women and children – at this critical moment,” said the agency’s Burundi country director, Jean-Charles Dei. “”It would be a tragedy if we are unable to provide the full support refugees will need when returning to Burundi.” Hundreds of thousands of Burundians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries over the years to escape deadly ethnic tensions or outright civil war. Last year, a tripartite commission – comprising the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Governments of Burundi and Tanzania – agreed that those who fled Burundi in 1993 should repatriate, with as many as 60,000 of these refugees expected to return to Burundi. The commission also decided that the so-called “1972 Burundians” – some 218,000 people who fled to Tanzania that year – be given the choice to either remain and apply for Tanzanian citizenship or return to their home country. Tens of thousands of refugees have expressed their desire to return to Burundi. WFP and its partners are supplying six-month food rations for each repatriating family, and UNHCR is providing a 50,000 Burundian franc cash grant – equivalent to $45 – to each returning refugee. Each family leaving Tanzania also receives WFP prepared meals in transit camps. However, to meet the urgent needs of these refugees, WFP has already been forced to scale back rations to other recipients of its aid in Burundi, including schoolchildren and mothers. To keep its Burundian operations – which provide food for 600,000 people monthly – running the agency requires an additional $20 million. “It’s crucial for the consolidation of peace in Burundi that not only the returnees, but also the communities that are receiving them, receive the assistance they need at this seminal time in the country’s history,” Mr. Dei noted. Last weekend, UNHCR kicked off a landmark two-year programme to repatriate those “1972 Burundians” wishing to return to their home country. The new programme – which the agency deems as one of its most important in Africa this year – is heavily dependent on contributions, and so far, $9 million of the $34 million UNHCR has appealed for has been received.