“In our village, there is neither returnee nor IDP’s, we are all Burundians victims of war who are suffering in the same way” explains Christine Nsabimana, a 47-year-old returnee who was in exile in Tanzania for fifteen years.
After the assassination of president Ndadaye in October 1993 and the massacres that have followed, the population of Ruyigi took two different ways while flying away: the Hutus went in exile in the neighbouring country of Tanzania while the Tutsis headed to well-protected places inside the country. Nearly 700,000 people fled to Tanzania, where they joined refugees of the 1972 massacres. An estimated 500,000 people were displaced internally ('internally displaced persons', or IDPs).
Thanks to international efforts, led by South Africa and Tanzania, the war has stopped, a peace agreement was signed by all parties. Stability has steadily increased and general elections were successfully organized in 2005. This has encouraged the governments of Burundi and Tanzania, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), to speed up the repatriation and reintegration of former refugees as well as IDPs.
In this context, there have been efforts to bring together refugees and former IDPs. The peace village of Muriza in Butangazwa commune of the province of Ruyigi is one of the several sites set up against this backdrop. Within the village, former refugees from Tanzania and former IDPs live together. The site was inaugurated in August 2008.
Jacqueline Niyonkuru, deputy-representative of the village explained that she and the thirty-nine families that came from Tanzania have been sufficiently sensitised on their return to prepare them for living together peacefully with those who remained inside Burundi. There are an estimated sixty families of former IDPs within the village.
This has been confirmed by Généviève Manirakiza who was also in the refugee camp of Nduta. “We have good relationships with people that we found here. We share salt, water and if somebody has any problem, we all assist him/her regardless the background. In reality, we all have the same problems - of famine and healthcare”, she pointed out.
Mamert Buregeya, a 58-year-old former IPD of Gashariro site and now chief of the village, also reports that relations between people of the village are peaceful. “A returnee from Tanzania is treated as one of ours. If it happens that we can be of any assistance for him, we do it. For instance, members of the village entrusted me to watch over an old man from Tanzania who was without anybody to assist him. I give him food and help him as I can, even for bodily care.” Buregeya also strongly insisted that if any person tried to divide the community, the whole village would stand up as one to fight against this. “Our common enemy in the village is famine”, he stressed.
In the peace village of Muriza, livelihoods are extremely precarious. Houses constructed with the assistance of the UNHCR collapse one after another. The earth that served to make bricks of these houses is not solid and does not resist the torrential rains of the beginning of January. In less than one year, six houses have already collapsed and there is a huge threat of collapse for many others.
The other challenge within the village is safe water. The source of water created by the UNHCR is now damaged and its water undrinkable; the population of the village has to go for long distances to find some clean water. But the biggest problem for the inhabitants of this site remains the lack of medical coverage. Even receiving their health insurance cards from the local administration is difficult, but even worse is that they struggle to have them accepted in the nearest healthcare centre of Muriza. “The large majority of people who get sick in this village stay in their houses and suffer silently”, revealed an inhabitant in a tone of despair.
The precariousness in this village is such that most of the households of the village cannot afford an equivalent of one US dollar demanded to treat a child at the local healthcare centre. “We implore the government to provide a family medical coverage and we are ready to contribute as we can. It’s totally unacceptable to continuously die without treatment like chicken” insisted Buregeya, leader of the village.
To show the reality of health-care problems, people tell stories of their immediate neighbours currently suffering typical health problems of the village. Two children, Bosco, a 4 year-old boy and Frédence a 8-year-old girl, are unrecognisable due to various diseases that have undermined their physical development. Two women over the age of sixty, Mary and Anastasie, are deprived of any assistance and don’t have any relatives to care for them. They remain permanently in their beds where they seem to be waiting for death.
Facing all these difficulties of reintegration, certain inhabitants of the village, especially those who came from Tanzania are tempted by a second exile. According to them, livelihoods were better in Tanzania. However, the deputy representative of the village discourages such an adventure and calls upon the government to implement the promises made before returning back in terms of land properties, medical coverage and schooling for pupils in secondary.