Tanzania naturalises first group of 1972 Burundian refugees

Briefing Notes, 7 August 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 August 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This week the Tanzanian government granted citizenship to 3568 of some 162,000 Burundians who applied for citizenship after living over three decades as refugees in Tanzanian settlements. The decision marks a major milestone in a programme that will bring to a close one of the world's most protracted refugee situations. It also represents the first time that any country in Africa has naturalised refugees on such a scale.

In early 2008, the Tanzanian government gave a choice to some 218,000 Burundians who had fled violence in their country in 1972 either to return home or to apply for Tanzanian citizenship. Building on this momentum, UNHCR advocated on behalf of the refugees with the governments of Tanzania and Burundi, facilitated the decision making and provided tangible assistance both to those who decided to go and those who opted to stay.

Some 162,000 of the original case load decided to stay and applied for naturalisation.

The final breakthrough came on 4 August when the Tanzanian Minister of Home Affairs granted citizenship to the first group of applicants. Out of 3,570 individuals, only two were rejected. At the same time, the Tanzanian government reaffirmed its commitment to finalise the processing of the remaining population before the end of the year.

In the meantime, 45,000 Burundians who decided to return to Burundi are already home thanks to logistical and other forms of assistance from UNHCR. Another 9,000 will return in the coming months. The entire solutions program is funded by the international community through UNHCR's 2008-2009 Supplementary Appeal, launched in February 2008. Out of a US$28.2 million budget for 2009, US$8 million is still needed to bring the voluntary repatriation, naturalisation and initial integration to conclusion.

UNHCR will continue to support the Tanzanian government in the transition phases of the integration of the newly naturalised. Community projects including rehabilitation of roads, construction and repair of schools, building of water points, improvement of health services and upgrading of local airstrip are already under way in Rukwa and Tabora regions which hosted 1972 Burundian refugees for decades. UNHCR support to local integration is envisaged to continue until the end of 2011.

At the peak of the Burundian crisis in the 90s, nearly half a million people fled violence in their country and found shelter in camps in the Tanzanian border regions of Kigoma and Kagera. Today, the Burundian peace process has paved the way for the return of one of Africa's longest staying refugee populations. Since 2002, more than 400,000 of these refugees returned from Tanzania to Burundi.




Second Dialogue on Protection Challenges, December 2008

An informal discussion among stakeholders about protracted refugee situations.

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

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

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

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek Safety

He used to fix broken bicycles in Burundi, but as political troubles and killings mounted Nestor Kamza decided to flee. In search of safety he and his family walked non-stop for 24-hours until they reached Tanzania. His family is among more than 100,000 people who have fled from political violence in Burundi and arrived in the Nyarugusu camp which has almost tripled in size. To alleviate overcrowding in the camp, UNHCR and its partners have planned to open three new camps and have started moving tens of thousands of Burundian refugees to a new, less congested, home
Tanzania: Setting Sail to SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Setting Sail to Safety

More than 60,000 Burundian refugees have arrived in Tanzania since the beginning of May. On the shores of Lake Tanganyika, hundreds board a ferry to Kigoma, Tanzania, before continuing to Nyaragusu camp.
Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.