Twelve years ago, a 28-year-old man named Ntirandekura Salathiel made the difficult decision to flee his homeland of Burundi due to the ongoing ethnic war between the Tutsi and the Hutu.
Faced with the constant threat to his life, Salathiel took the courageous step to escape the volatile situation and seek refuge in Malawi.
Salathiel embarked on a difficult bus journey spanning 28 hours, passing through a distance of 1,648.2 kilometers.
This relentless journey eventually guided him to the Dzaleka refugee camp, a haven that embraces and shelters more than 52,000 displaced individuals hailing from diverse African nations.
Within the confines of the camp, Salathiel found solace and safety amidst the harsh realities of displacement.
“I came to Malawi in 2011 because of the war that was in my country” said Salathiel.
In this new chapter of his life, Salathiel encountered a community of individuals who, like him, had been uprooted from their homes due to conflict and persecution.
Together, they formed a diverse wall-hanging of cultures, languages, and experiences, bound by the common thread of seeking a peaceful existence.
“During my time here, I have had the opportunity to meet and develop meaningful relationships with numerous individuals. I am grateful to everyone who has supported me at this camp” added Salathiel.
Within the confines of the camp, Salathiel faced numerous challenges, from limited resources and overcrowded living conditions to the absence of basic amenities.
However, he persevered, driven by a resilient spirit and a deep longing for a better future.
During the camp verification exercise conducted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, several refugees expressed their willingness to return home, and among them was Salathiel.
Roberline Tozwen, the Senior Protection Officer at UNHCR Malawi, stated that subsequent to the event, UNHCR initiated communication with the governments of Malawi and Burundi to engage in discussions regarding the process.
“We had a meeting and we exchanged letters to make sure that all things are put in place for safe return in their country of origin,” said Tozwen.
After receiving the heartening news of Burundi’s newfound peace, Salathiel and a group of 37 individuals have wholeheartedly chosen to return to their homeland, filled with optimism and determination to rebuild their lives.
According to Hilda Kausiwa, the Senior Administrative and Operations Manager for Refugees at the Ministry of Homeland Security, she stated, “We have engaged in extensive discussions with our counterparts in Burundi, including representatives from the UNHCR office and the Ministry of Homeland Security. They have expressed their willingness to receive the refugees and ensure their safe and dignified reintegration.”
Hilary Namakhwa, the administrator of Dzaleka Refugee Camp, couldn’t hide his delight upon receiving the news that 38 individuals had made the courageous decision to return to their home country, Burundi, through the proper channels and procedures.
His face beamed with joy as he learned about their voluntary repatriation, a testament to their resilience and the success of the reintegration efforts.
“Voluntary repatriation is to go back home willingly, they were also waiting for such things, retiring from being refugees” said Namakhwa.
At precisely 11 o’clock, Salathiel, accompanied by his wife and two children, arrived at Kamuzu International Airport, they were joined by representatives from the Ministry of Homeland Security and officials from UNHCR, all prepared for their journey back to Burundi.
Donning a black and blue striped shirt and pushing a trolley with a traveling bag, Salathiel and the group, fully aware of the forthcoming challenges, embrace their resilience and unwavering bond to their homeland, vowing to conquer adversities and restore what was once lost.
“I consistently express that the future remains unknown to us; only God possesses knowledge of our destiny.” said Salathiel.
This voluntary act of repatriation serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring others who may be living in exile to consider returning and actively participate in the nation’s renewal.
The determination displayed by Salathiel and the group signifies a turning point, marking the beginning of a chapter of reconciliation, unity, and progress for Burundi.
According to Patrick Botha, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Homeland Security in Malawi, this marks the beginning of the endeavor, as there are still numerous individuals eager to return to their respective places of origin.
“You may wish to appreciate that when it comes to the issue of refugees management, repatriation is one of the durable solutions for refugee management,” said Botha.
Roberline Tozwen, the Senior Protection Officer at UNHCR Malawi, highlights that while there is a rising number of refugees expressing their wish to return home, the actual implementation of these repatriations could face hindrances due to funding constraints, serving as a substantial barrier to the successful execution of voluntary repatriation initiatives.
As the years passed, Salathiel witnessed both the struggles and triumphs of his fellow refugees.
He saw children, born and raised in the camp, striving for education and dreaming of a world beyond the barbed wire fences.
Dzaleka Refugee camp continues to face numerous challenges, including insufficient resources, inadequate WASH facilities, and a lack of basic amenities.
A total of eleven households that have returned to Burundi will receive assistance for a period of three months, including 200 USD in local currency as cash support and 250 USD worth of shelter and other in-kind materials. However, the question remains: What will happen to those individuals who are still at Dzaleka refugee camp and express their willingness to return to their respective countries?