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Burundi: WFP Food Helps Returnees from Tanzania Restart Lives

After nearly two decades spent in exile in Tanzania, thousands of Burundian refugees are finally returning home. WFP food is helping them make the transition and restart lives uprooted by civil war in Burundi in the 1990s.

After nearly two decades in exile, Festus Ngendankazi  has finally come home.

“The word of God says that when you eat, remember to give thanks and praise to your God,” says Ngendankazi, a slender man in a frayed, blue shirt, who is receiving WFP food assistance at Musenyi, a transit centre in southern Burundi for newly returned refugees from Tanzania.

“That's true,” he adds, “but I would equally like to thank WFP for its assistance.”

Ngendankazi (38) is among 35,000 Burundians who came here from Mtabila refugee camp in western Tanzania after that country’s government announced its closure by the end of 2012.  Their return is taking place in stages, in cooperation with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and the Burundian authorities.

It has been a long journey for this particular farmer. When civil war erupted here in 1993, Ngendankazi fled, leaving everything behind. 

Bags of food

He still remembers arriving in Mtabila one long-ago November night. After a difficult three days, big trucks rolled up and delivered bags of food. He was told they came from WFP.

“We had been told that we were going to be given food, but I had not expected it so quickly,” he recalls.

For the next 19 years, WFP food rations were Ngendankazi’s mainstay, although wages from odd jobs helped to diversify the household diet and buy other necessities. 

He married another Burundian refugee. Today, he is the proud father of three.