With numbers of returnees expected to rise in 2008, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expects that it will have to expand its shelter programme in Burundi, one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. All returnee families without homes are eligible to receive assistance from UNHCR to build a small three-room house, which cost the agency about $500 each. Priority is given to the most vulnerable households, particularly those headed by females and those including disabled or elderly members. The majority of refugees receiving assistance under the programme are provided with materials and then construct their new houses themselves, which helps to impart a greater sense of ownership and helps them acquire additional skills. Burundi has welcomed back some 380,000 refugees – or 5 per cent of the population – from surrounding countries since 2002. The housing programme is one of several reintegration measures that are vital to ensuring a sustainable return. UNHCR notes that most of the returnees making use of return programmes since 2002 have been subsistence farmers – and most have been able to recover their land. But more than 80 per cent of returnees have had to construct or buy new shelter, according to a study conducted earlier this year by UNHCR and the World Food Programme. Thanks to contributions from donors such as the European Commission and Japan, UNHCR will be able to provide at least 14,300 vulnerable families with shelter over the next year. 2 January 2008Over the past five yeas, the United Nations refugee agency has assisted 58,000 Burundians returning to the small Central African country – which is emerging from decades of ethnic conflict – by helping them build their own homes, improve living conditions and ensure a sustainable return.