A batch of nearly 600 Burundian refugees has left Tanzania for home, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Thursday’s departures represent the first group in a mass repatriation exercise that some Burundian migrants fear could force them back against their will.
In 2015, hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled a surge of political violence when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in office. His opponents had accused him of breaching the constitution.
Only last month, a UN Commission on Burundi reported that there was risk of a fresh wave of atrocities ahead of elections in 2020. The concern among many is that the polls may hold with the country’s political crisis still unresolved.
Burundi and Tanzania agreed in August to start repatriating 200,000 refugees, saying that conditions in Burundi had improved.
A Tanzanian government official and the UN said all of Thursday’s returns had been voluntary.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), some 590 Burundian refugees have returned on flights that it organized on Thursday with the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).