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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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

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…

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Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Africa is the continent most affected by the tragedy of forced displacement. While millions of refugees were able to return to Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda and South Sudan over the last 15 years, the numbers of internally displaced people continued to grow. At the beginning of 2009, in addition to some 2.3 million refugees, an estimated 11.6 million people were internally displaced by conflict in Africa.

To address forced displacement on the continent, the African Union is organizing a special summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced people from October 19-23 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Heads of state and government will look at the challenges and at ways to find solutions to forced displacement. They are also expected to adopt a Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa, which would be the first legally binding instrument on internal displacement with a continental scope. This photo gallery looks at some of the forcibly displaced around Africa, many of whom are helped by UNHCR.

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

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