Projects - 21 September 2023

Burundi: The Reintegration of Repatriates, a National Priority

In the commune of Mishiha, in eastern Burundi, Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (BSF) and its partners actively contribute to the reintegration of Burundian repatriates, in recent years with the encouragement of the government. Thanks to the deployment of an Ideas Box, these repatriates—as well as their host communities—now have access to thousands of educational, informational, and pedagogical resources on entrepreneurship. The aim is to help them relearn how to live in a country they were forced to flee due to socio-economic and political unrest.

After the events of 2015, over 500,000 Burundians fled their homes to neighboring countries, primarily Tanzania and Rwanda. Today, following the easing of tensions, national authorities, international organizations, and NGOs are mobilizing to facilitate their gradual repatriation. After years of exile, returning home is far from easy, and for many it is often tied to feelings of doubt and disappointment. Most of these communities are now dependent on humanitarian aid.

“The repatriation process can be complex; it’s often a long journey. The repatriates find themselves in extremely vulnerable situations, and often face challenges in finding their land or housing. They need support to reintegrate, to rebuild their lives in a new environment.” Cédric Irakoze, Head of BSF’s education programs in Burundi.

In the province of Canzuko, on the Tanzanian border, the commune of Mishiha hosts one of the largest numbers of repatriates, drawn by the availability of land.

“In Burundi, working the land is the main source of income for many residents. It provides them with financial stability and a sense of belonging within their community. Mishiha is now the first entry point for repatriates: upon arrival, the government allocates them cultivable land so they can quickly meet their needs.” Cédric Irakoze.

In this context, since spring 2023, BSF has deployed an Ideas Box at the “youth center” of Mishiha, with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Every day, our media library kit serves around fifty children and adolescents—most of whom are out of school—, offering them activities centered around board games, computers, books, and comics custom-selected by our teams in French and Kirundi. Despite the challenges of daily life and the language barrier, these young people rediscover their joy of learning through play.

“In Tanzania, where most repatriates come from, classes are taught in English. Naturally, these children have drifted away from the French language, which is the official language of the Burundian educational system alongside Kirundi. Upon returning home, many of them fall off track academically and do not return to school. The Ideas Box is a springboard for them: many volunteer teachers use the library’s contents to lead workshops in French, mathematics, or science, and to inspire them to return to school.” Cédric Irakoze.

Many adults—repatriates and curious residents alike—also frequent the Ideas Box to take advantage of the resources selected by BSF as part of its social entrepreneurship support program. Through the program, they can acquire new knowledge and professional skills which will help them to start or develop their own businesses.

“When there are few or no existing resources, new content—especially in Kirundi—is created by our specialized teams and partners to enrich the documentary fund of the Ideas Box and best meet people’s needs on the ground: particularly resources related to welding, livestock farming, soapmaking, agriculture, beekeeping, etc.” Cédric Irakoze.

Today, the Ideas Box serves not only as a place of learning, but also as a place of encounters: in just a few months, it has become an essential meeting point for newcomers and residents of Mishiha who gather to exchange and help each other out.

“This new cultural space now plays a key role in the reintegration of repatriates: bonds are formed, friendships are born. These exchanges are an essential first step in helping them to regain confidence and move forward into their futures.” Cédric Irakoze.

In total, nearly 1,000 people have benefitted from the Ideas Box in Mishiha.

Bibliothèques Sans Frontières empowers vulnerable populations by facilitating access to education, culture, and information. In France and in more than 30 countries, the association creates innovative spaces to live and shelters that allow people affected by crises and uncertainty to have fun, create links, and build their futures.


Translation: Gustavo Romero