Nyarunazi – Under a mild midday sun, Alphonsine, Daniella and their mother Godence welcomed the visiting IOM delegation into their newly repaired home. Located on Nyarunazi hill, in Muyinga province, Burundi, the modest, clay brick structure sits on a green hilltop, surrounded by corn fields and free-roaming livestock.

Having greeted her guests, the family matriarch, 80-year-old Godence, recounts the story of her family’s uprooting, from tending to fields as rural farmers in Burundi, to life as refugees in Rwanda.

“We had heard a lot of rumors [of a return to conflict in Burundi],” and this led us to flee the country in search of more stability,” she says. Leaving Burundi during a time of political turmoil, in 2015, the three women were forced to leave their most prized possessions – their red brick home and lush green farmland – unattended, fleeing, like thousands of others.

Though they were fleeing hardship, life in neighbouring Rwanda was not any easier, particularly as Godence’s two daughters had the additional task of attending to their fragile mother during the stressful period.

Recalling their struggles, Alphonsine explains: “Moving with my 80-year-old mother was not easy. She had a lot of needs, and we were not able to provide for her as refugees - we always needed assistance.”

80-year-old Godence stands at the entrance to her home, her face weary with age. Photo: IOM Burundi 2022/ Triffin Ntore

Eventually, after several years and an easing of tensions in the country, in 2021, the trio returned to Burundi. They formed just a part of an ongoing mass voluntary return campaign organized by the Governments of Burundi and Rwanda, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

As of November 2021, Alphonsine and her family were among the 180,000 refugees who had returned to Burundi since 2017.

However, returning to their home after six long years, the family was devastated to find their house and fields badly damaged by torrential rains and strong winds. Thanks to cash assistance returnees receive upon their arrival, Alphonsine and her family were able to repair their home’s walls.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) works to ease the hardship that returnees, like Alphonsine and her family, face. By providing families with shelter and latrine repair kits as well as Non-Food Item (NFI) kits, among other assistance, the goal is to facilitate their return to Burundi.

Families wait for their names to be called to pick up their NFI kit in Muyinga province, Burundi. Photo: IOM Burundi 2022/ Amaury Falt-Brown

Alphonsine’s family is one of the 55 households in her commune to have benefited from a shelter repair kit that included 10 iron sheets, 10 wooden beams, a door, a window, nails and construction wire, as well as the funds to pay a mason for the repairs.

It was this support that allowed the three women to salvage their family home and make it livable once more, thereby supporting their successful return to Burundi and offering a hint of stability after the tumultuous experience of living as refugees.

“Our life is better with this support. We no longer fear the rain like we used to,” says Alphonsine proudly, as she gives her visitors a tour of the repaired home.

In addition to the shelter repair assistance, Alphonsine, Daniella and their mother are among 135 returnee households in Buhinyuza commune that have received an NFI kit from IOM.

A man walks home happy after receiving an NFI kit during a distribution. Photo: IOM Burundi 2022/ Amaury Falt-Brown

Dahlia, another returnee who lives nearby, was also the recipient of an NFI kit. The IOM delegation came across her as she was joyfully leaving from the kit distribution site, with the big white bag in hand.

“I received soaps that smell good, sheets and mosquito nets for protection, as well as many other useful things I needed. Today I will sleep with a peaceful heart,” she said, listing the items in her NFI kit.  

The commune’s administrator, Esperance Ndayisaba, with whom IOM works closely to support the community, explained the impact that the Organization’s work has had on her administration.

“The community members usually come to the commune office to ask for help. They need sheets to protect their kids, jerricans to get water, and other types of support. We try our best [but we cannot always assist them]. This support from IOM reinforces our commune and helps our population with their needs,” she says.

Esperance, the commune’s administrator, organizes returnee households via a megaphone during an NFI kit distribution. Photo: IOM Burundi 2022/ Triffin Ntore

IOM assistance to returnees aims to ease the struggles they face in their daily lives and facilitate their reintegration in their community by responding to their urgent needs upon return and promoting social cohesion in their communities – especially where resources are already scarce, even among host communities.

Irene Nahayo, NFI/Shelter Project Assistant at IOM, believes that the support being provided to households like Godence’s is helping them to rebuild a decent life in Burundi.

“When refugees return to Burundi, many find their homes partially destroyed. For a Burundian, your home and land are your most valuable assets. With IOM's support, many of these families have the means to repair their homes and get back on their feet, enabling them to better integrate into the community and focus on finding work,” says Irene.

Like many others, with the support they have received, Alphonsine, her sister and mother feel at home again. By reintegrating into their community comfortably and with dignity, they have been able to forge a new start in their beloved home country.

For more information, contact Triffin Ntore, IOM Burundi Communication Assistant, Phone: (+257) 75150145, Email: tntore@iom.int

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