UN agencies team up to provide health care for refugees returning to

A Memorandum of Understanding signed yesterday in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) aims to provide an effective Minimum Care Package through integrated activities such as the provision of equipment and essential medicine in addition to the rehabilitation of health centres. “I hope that the signature of this memorandum will contribute to the reinforcement of our cooperation and that it serves as a reminder of our strong commitment,” Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Burundi Carolyn McAskie said at the signing ceremony. Joint planning is currently focusing on 200 health centres in the most affected communes in 10 provinces, where more than 10,000 returnees per province are expected over the year. But the memorandum lays the ground for a second phase including the consolidation of existing programs and an extension to the remaining provinces during 2005. All activities are conducted in partnership with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which is essential for the success of this project. “Beneficiaries include returnees, IDPs (internally displaced people) and the local population in Burundi taking into consideration the specific needs of children and women,” said Cherif Benadouda, UNICEF Officer in Charge in Bujumbura. In 2003, 800,000 Burundians were estimated to be living in neighbouring Tanzania. Successful political negotiations have now stabilized the security situation and around half of the 281,000 IDPs have returned to their home communities. The process of voluntary repatriation, stipulated by the Arusha Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation signed by most of the parties to the conflict in 2000, started in 2002. During the first half of this year 52,062 refugees have returned voluntarily from Tanzania in a transfer mainly facilitated by UNHCR. This process might accelerate in the coming months depending on school breaks, harvest season and the planed election.