The past is a foreign country for some Burundian refugees

News Stories, 7 May 2009

© UNHCR/B.Bannon
A place called Home: Ogeste works his land and looks forward to a happy future as a Tanzanian.

MISHAMO, Tanzania, May 7 (UNHCR) Ogeste Gelevasi sits in front of his humble house, looking out over fields of cassava and tobacco with a wide smile of contentment. He feels at home here in western Tanzania after almost 40 years as a refugee from neighbouring Burundi.

For Ogeste, the country he fled aged two is a foreign country; that's why he, like an estimated 165,000 of the remaining so-called 1972 Burundians living in Mishamo and two other "old settlements," have decided to accept a landmark offer by the government to settle in Tanzania and apply for citizenship.

Just 55,000 of the refugees, dubbed the 1972 Burundians because they or their parents fled that country in that year, have opted to go home under a programme launched in 2008 and expected to end this year. UNHCR this week appealed for extra funds after revising its budget for the 2009 portion of the repatriation and integration programme upwards from US$12.7 million to US$28.2 million.

"We are used to life in Tanzania," Ogeste told recent UNHCR visitors to his thatched hut in Mishamo. "It gave us a plot to farm; it gave us a place where we could live . . . After we were given a choice between two places, we decided to stay in Tanzania."

Ogeste, aged 39, fled to Tanzania in 1972 and has lived in Mishamo ever since. His wife, Janet, and three children were all born and raised in Tanzania.

Some of his friends have decided to go back, but the majority of the Burundians in the Mishamo, Ulyankulu and Katumba "old settlements" want to stay in the country that offered them shelter from the horrors back home.

"My good friend Elia, who I have known for long, is going back with his family. He says he wants to work hard there with his kids and rebuild the country he left. I will miss seeing him here," Ogeste said.

Impatient to become a citizen of Tanzania, Ogeste reflected on his life as a refugee. He started working while still at school and has been a farmer and trader for years, living a life similar to that of Tanzanians in nearby villages.

"When I started this life, it was tough. I worked as a fisherman for a year and saved enough money to start farming and to marry. Later, I set up a small shop, but I also continued farming. So life is good we are clothed; we eat and sleep well," Ogeste explained.

Becoming a Tanzanian citizen will be an immense psychological boost and it could help improve his outlook. He plans to use the opportunity to travel around the country and look for new business. "We are hopeful that as soon as we become citizens of Tanzania, we will be able to do more," he said.

Emmanuel Bilengeko, Ogeste's neighbour, agreed. "Today, we choose to be naturalized because this country is good and the people here have loved us."

Soon people like Ogeste and Emmanuel will be moving out of the old settlements and finding new homes among their fellow Tanzanian citizens around the country. UNHCR and the international community will still be around to help the Tanzanian government ensure that their integration is smooth and sustainable.

By Brendan Bannon in Mishamo and Eveline Wolfcarius in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania




Durable Solutions

Voluntary repatriation, local integration, resettlement, the three key solutions.

Local Integration

Integration of refugees in the host community allows recipients to live in dignity and peace.

Integration Initiatives: Supporting Next Steps

An inventory of opportunities and needs in the integration of resettled refugees

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

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

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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