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Tanzanian and Japanese athletes run for peace with Burundian refugees

News Stories, 13 February 2009

© UNHCR/E.Wolfcarius
Running for Peace: A Burundian refugee takes part in the Ekiden relay race at Mtabila camp.

MTABILA REFUGEE CAMP, Tanzania, February 13 (UNHCR) Juma Ikangaa and Toshihiko Seko used to face off against each other in athletics meetings and road marathons around the world. On Thursday, the former world-class track runners reunited on the red laterite soil of a refugee camp in the heart of Africa and took part in a race to promote peace and oppose sexual violence.

"Last year, I was at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Under the slogan "One World, One Dream," athletes and visitors from all over the world were united around sport. Today, I am here with the same message of peace and team spirit," 51-year-old Ikangaa told the scores of refugees and visitors who joined him in the five-kilometre-long "Ekiden for Peace" race.

The UN refugee agency and its Canadian-based implementing partner, Right to Play, organized the Ekiden the Japanese name for a long-distance relay race around Mtabila Camp, which is home to some 40,000 Burundian refugees who fled their homeland in the 1990s.

An Ekiden race does not require batons or special equipment. It only needs tasuki [sashes] to pass from one runner to the next, so it was seen as an ideal team sport in a refugee camp situation.

More than 160 people took part, including refugees young and old, volunteers from Japan's Waseda University, government officials, aid workers and UNHCR staff, led by Representative Yacoub El Hillo.

Ikangaa and Seko set the pace as relays of runners snaked through the narrow paths that criss-cross the camp in the hills of north-west Tanzania. "Ekiden is a very popular sport in Japan," said Seko, 52, who took part in two Olympics in the 1980s and won the Boston (twice) and London marathons during his running career. "I came to Tanzania to share this traditional team sport with you in order to promote peace and non-violence," he added.

Alphonse Nyanburi, a primary school teacher in the camp, said he had encouraged his pupils to take part. "Sport is important," he said. "It shows a decent life is possible in the camp." This is a sentiment shared by UNHCR, whose internet-based ninemillion.org campaign is aimed at ensuring education and sport opportunities for all refugee children.

A first Ekiden for Peace charity run was held last September at Japan's fabled Mount Fuji with the aim of gaining moral and material support from the Japanese public for refugees worldwide, particularly the Burundians in Tanzania.

Since 2002, UNHCR has assisted the voluntary return of some 357,000 Burundian refugees from camps in Tanzania, including 63,000 last year. In a separate repatriation launched last year for Burundians who fled their country in 1972, the agency has repatriated another 30,000 people. A further 165,000 have submitted citizenship applications, which are now under consideration by the government of Tanzania.

By Eveline Wolfcarius in Mtabila Refugee Camp, Tanzania




Finding a Home on Ancestral Land

Somali Bantu refugees gaining citizenship in Tanzania

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

The three camps at Dadaab, which were designed for 90,000 people, now have a population of about 250,000 Somali civilians, making it one of the world's largest and most congested refugee sites. UNHCR fears tens of thousands more will arrive throughout 2009 in this remote corner of north-east Kenya as the situation in their troubled country deteriorates further.

Resources, such as food and water, have been stretched dangerously thin in the overcrowded camps, with sometimes 400 families sharing one tap. There is no room to erect additional tents and the new arrivals are forced to share already crowded shelters with other refugees.

In early 2009, the Kenyan government agreed to allocate more land at Dadaab to accommodate some 50,000 refugees. View photos showing conditions in Dadaab in December 2008.

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

Since the end of October more than 26,000 Burundian former refugees have been assisted by UNHCR and its partners to return home from the Mtabila camp in northwest Tanzania. The operation is organized with the Government of Tanzania to help some 35,500 Burundian former refugees go back to Burundi by the end of 2012, when the Mtabila camp officially closes.

Refugee status for most Burundians in Tanzania formally ended in August following individual interviews to assess remaining protection needs. A total of 2,715 people will continue to be hosted as refugees in Tanzania, while the rest, the last of a population of refugees who left Burundi some 20 years ago, must return home. This is not an easy move after having spent most of your life -- and sometimes all of it -- in exile.

While awaiting their turn to join one of the daily convoys to bring them home, Burundian former refugees are preparing themselves for a fresh start…

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

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Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek Safety

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