Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

Burundi: Learning to live together in one village

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 26 September 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Burundi: Learning to live together in one village, 26 September 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48e085e81e.html [accessed 14 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

BUJUMBURA, 26 September 2008 (IRIN) - Years ago, Mammert Buregeya, a 54-year-old displaced Burundian Tutsi, would probably have refused to live in Muriza "peace village" because that would bring him close to Hutu returnees.

"Suspicion between Tutsi IDPs [internally displaced persons] and Hutu returnees is something of the past," he said after accepting the offer of a house in Muriza in August.

He was also tired of moving from camp to camp as he has been doing since 1993, and so readily moved into the village in Butangazwa commune in the eastern Ruyigi Province, even if it meant living close to Hutu returnee women.

"We have come to understand that we are finally in the same boat," he told IRIN. "Even those who fled the country went through hardships; I know a family who came back with only one child, after burying others in Tanzania."

According to Buregeya, the offer of a house in the village would have sounded strange a few years ago. Then, Tutsi and Hutu Burundians held one another responsible for their suffering and blamed each other when somebody was killed.

"When one passed, the other looked away - without a word," he explained.

Living together

The idea of peace villages was mooted by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) after a visit to Ruyigi. Inaugurated on 14 August, Muriza hosts 49 families of Tutsi IDPs, and 15 of Hutu returnee women chosen from among the most vulnerable.

Unlike other projects where agencies offer building materials to returnees or IDPs for making shelters, Muriza was built by World Outreach Initiative, a UNHCR partner.

After building the houses, the NGO then handed them over to the residents.

According to the UNHCR representative in Burundi, Bo Schack, solving returnee problems means addressing IDP problems as well - especially given that many of the IDPs have suffered multiple displacements since 1993.

"The perfect way to deal with it was to put landless people together with IDPs in a mixed village close to an area with economic viability to ensure stability and durable solutions for those people," Schack said.

So far, the IDPs and returnees have lived together peacefully. "My wife was ill some days ago; a returnee woman offered her money to go for medical help," Buregeya said.

His neighbour, Médiatrice Nitunga, a returnee woman, could not recall any misunderstandings or friction since her arrival on 28 August from Tanzania.
Instead, she appreciated the way the two communities had overcome their troubles to live together.

"We have lost ours in the same way ... it is preferable to live together and forget," Nitunga said. "Now, if I need water, I enter a house without considering of the ethnic origin of the occupant. If one gets beer, he shares with others," she added.

Apart from being models of reconciliation, the peace villages are expected to improve local social infrastructure.

Pontien Hatungimana, adviser to the governor of Ruyigi, said the creation of such villages would allow the population to access schools, health centres and water; all of which the government could not provide by itself.

Next steps

While the villagers are happy to live in Muriza, some said promises of furniture and bedding had yet to be fulfilled, leaving the houses empty.

"They have promised us blankets and beds but we are still waiting," Nitunga said, adding that there was an urgent need for seeds to prepare for the next planting season.

Living together has also led to IDPs claiming cash grants like those received by the returnees. UNHCR, however, considers that the IDPs often have some land or furniture, unlike returnees who need full support to resettle.

The residents of Muriza, for example, are being given US$1,000 by a philanthropist - which the residents have proposed should not only be used to buy priorities like beds and blankets, but also for income generation.

Among other activities, they would like to raise goats or set up shops.

Muriza has offered up some useful lessons. As a result, the integrated commission for repatriation in the Ministry of National Solidarity, Reconstruction, Human Rights and Gender i s working with various agencies to develop durable solutions for landless people.

The plan especially targets refugees who fled Burundi in the 1970s.

Governors of the provinces and the ministry of land management have also been requested to identify land for building about 14 more villages in border provinces.

These are intended to become viable integrated villages with social services close to hand. Muriza, for example, has a nearby elementary school, trading centre and water supply.

"The message we got from the population is that they [can live] together,"
concluded Schack.

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