A total of 603 Burundi refugees, who have been in Uganda for close to 10 years, started a voluntary repatriation to their country yesterday.
Under the Uganda/Burundi/UNHCR tripartite Commission on the Voluntary Repatriation of Burundi Refugees in Uganda, the first batch of 61 refugees took a flight to Bujumbura aboard a chartered Uganda Airlines plane from Entebbe International Airport.
The remaining refugees will travel in separate batches in the coming days.
As part of adherence to measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, all those repatriated were tested and found negative for Covid-19, 72 hours before departure.
They were accompanied on the flight by Mr Godfrey Byaruhanga and Mr Arthur Mugarura from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and Dancun Mato from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR.).
Mr David Kazungu, the commissioner for Refugees in OPM, said the returnees voluntarily registered to go home.
The refugees spoken to before departure appreciated the generosity of the leadership and people of Uganda for hosting them for many years.
In particular, they thanked President Museveni for his consistent spirit of pan-Africanism and for championing a progressive and open-door refugee policy towards seekers of safety and security.
Uganda currently hosts more than 1.4 million refugees from different countries in the region, including South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and Eritrea.
Commenting on the development, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda welcomed the news and praised the generosity of host communities that have lived and sheltered the refugees for many years.
“As we have always observed, no one ever chooses to be a refugee. So it is only proper to treat people who flee their homes in search of safety and security humanely, with dignity and respect,” Mr Rugunda said.
He added: “We also thank our partners, especially the UNHCR, the World Bank and others for their long-standing solidarity with Uganda in supporting refugees and host communities. I am therefore pleased that these brothers and sisters have made a voluntary decision to return to their home country.”
The repatriation flights have been organised and funded by the UN refugee agency.