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.

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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

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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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