Tanzania gives Burundian refugees more time to return home

Briefing Notes, 30 June 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 June 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has welcomed a decision by the Tanzanian government to give more time for the voluntary repatriation of some 36,000 Burundian camp-based refugees.

The Mtabila refugee camp in Kasulu district in north-western Tanzania, the last remaining camp hosting Burundian refugees in the country, was scheduled for closure today, 30 June, when all its residents were expected to voluntarily repatriate home.

However, on June 20 World Refugee Day the Tanzanian Minister of Home Affairs, Hon. Lawrence Masha, announced that more time will be given to the Burundians, who have been refugees in the country since 1990s, to go back to Burundi.

The refugees will now have the chance to plan their return home during the traditional high season for repatriation which runs to the end of September.

The Minister also reiterated that no refugee will be forcibly returned and reaffirmed his government's commitment to uphold international laws and standards relating to the protection of refugees.

The Burundian peace process has paved the way for the return of one of Africa's longest staying refugee populations. Since 2002, UNHCR has assisted the voluntary repatriation of over 485,000 Burundian refugees from the neighbouring countries of Tanzania, DRC and Rwanda.

Over the last 37 years, Burundi's conflict has triggered waves of displacement, making the central African nation one of the biggest refugee producing countries in the world.

The remaining 36,000 refugees in Mtabila camp fled to Tanzania to escape the ethnic violence in Burundi in the last 16 years.

In addition, there are the "1972" Burundian refugees in three 'old settlements' in Rukwa and Tabora regions in western Tanzania. In a landmark decision in 2008, the Tanzanian government gave a choice to these refugees to return home or apply for Tanzanian citizenship.

Some 165,000 of them decided to stay and applied for naturalisation, while another 55,000 opted to return to Burundi. Of these, some 40,000 have returned home with the help of UNHCR and the remaining 15,000 are registered to repatriate to their homeland before the end of year.

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Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Second Dialogue on Protection Challenges, December 2008

An informal discussion among stakeholders about protracted refugee situations.

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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In 2007, UNHCR and the government of Tanzania gave him a choice: return home or become Tanzanian. It was an easy decision for Michael Sheltieri Namoya.
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