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Thousands of Burundian Refugees to Be Resettled in US

The U.N. refugee agency says more than 8,000 Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1972 are to be resettled in the United States. The UNHCR says a first group of 88 Burundians flew from Kibondo Camp in western Tanzania Friday to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, en route to new homes in the United States. Lisa Schlein reports for the VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency says about 3,000 of the Burundian refugees accepted for resettlement are expected to leave Kibondo for Nairobi and then travel to cities in the United States over the next 15 weeks. Atlanta and Phoenix are two of the cities mentioned.

The UNHCR says it expects the process of resettling more than 8,000 Burundians to be completed by the end of the year. The operation is being organized by the U.S. government, the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration.

UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis calls it a significant step in resolving one of the world's most protracted problems. The refugees are not welcome in Tanzania and they have been away from Burundi so long that they are no longer considered Burunidian. Pagonis says resettlement is really the only option for them.

"They have been in exile for nearly 35 years. If they went back, they would face very complex and unresolved land issues, and most believe they would be viewed as outsiders and never be able to integrate in Burundi," said Pagonis. "The option of staying and integrating locally in Tanzania is not on the cards. So, this is a welcome step to see that they have somewhere to go to."

The group that left for Nairobi Friday will spend the next three days in a transit center run by the International Organization for Migration before embarking on the last leg of the journey to the United States.

IOM Spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says an orientation workshop will help prepare the refugees for life in the U.S.

"Traditionally, the International Organization for Migration takes care of all health-related aspects to the resettlement, provides cultural orientation classes to help those refugees who are going to be resettled cope with the first weeks and months of their life in the U.S.," he said.

Chauzy says IOM will provide escorts on the commercial flights to the U.S. It also will provide medical officers, when necessary, and will assist the refugees during their transit in Europe.