The number of Burundian refugees voluntarily returning to their country have reached 8,619 as agencies clear a backlog of families on the waiting list that has piled up due to Covid-19 protocols and holidays, Rwanda Today has learnt.
Sources also cited limited capacity of transit centres and land for settling returnees are playing out as challenges to the process implemented under a tripartite agreement between the UN refugee agency and respective governments.
Individual refugees who signed up for voluntary repatriation told Rwanda Today the process had been suspended for weeks over reasons that were not communicated.
But o cials at the camp linked the delay to the festive holidays that stalled routine processing including health screening, Covid-19 testing, documentation, and other requisite preparations prior to departures.
“The registration did not stop but for weeks there hasn’t been any convoy going despite those signing up for voluntary return increasing by day.
What I think happened is the lack of communication which left refugees thinking there were administrative issues going on,” said a staff member with the humanitarian agency who did not want his name in the press as he is authorized to speak on its behalf.
The UN refugee agency had not responded by press time. Rwanda Today however learnt that number of refugees on the waiting list which stood at 10,570 as at December 22, 2020 since shoot to about 18,000 and still counting as more turn up to register for voluntary return.
The Ministry of Emergency management last week confirmed the departure of the 16th group of returnees who include 723 individuals from Mahama refugee camp with over 60,000 refugees in total.
It is the first convoy to leave since the start of the year, while estimated 7,895 refugees had crossed since the beginning of the voluntary return programme in August, according to UNHCR figures.
The UN refugee agency initially targeted to support the return of 8,000 returnees from Rwanda by the end of 020 citing funding constraints and Burundi’s limited capacity to receive all persons who sign up for return.