Tanzania: End of repatriation for Burundians from Old Settlements

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Today we reach an important milestone in ending one of the longest-running refugee sagas in the world with the return to their homeland of 400 Burundians who fled to Tanzania in 1972. They are scheduled to leave Katumba, one of the so-called Old Settlements in western Tanzania, this afternoon at the end of a year-and-a-half-long voluntary repatriation program.

They are to travel by rail from the same train station where they arrived 37 years ago when they fled the eruption of ethnic violence which claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 Burundian civilians. Since March 2008, UNHCR has helped 53,500 refugees from the Old Settlements to return home. The voluntary repatriation of the 1972 Burundian refugees is part of a landmark programme launched with the Tanzanian government to end this protracted refugee situation.

Under the same programme, 162,000 of the 1972 Burundian refugees in these Settlements applied for Tanzanian citizenship. Since August, some 29,000 had been naturalised. The Tanzanian government aims to complete the process by the end of the year for the remaining 133,000 applicants.

Tanzania also hosts Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1993. These refugees were mainly hosted in refugee camps in Kigoma and Kagera provinces in the north-west, out of which all but one have now been closed. Burundian refugees also fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda at the same time.

With the gradual return of peace in Burundi, more than half a million Burundian refugees have returned home, including more than 430,000 from camps in Tanzania. That now leaves just 36,000 Burundian refugees in one remaining camp in Tanzania, Mtabila, as well as another 21,500 in the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.

UNHCR is working closely with the government of Burundi and the governments of asylum countries to actively promote the return of the remaining Burundian refugees. These efforts are part of a comprehensive strategy and roadmap leading ultimately to the cessation of refugee status of Burundians.

Meanwhile in Burundi, UNHCR is helping returnees solve problems they face in reclaiming their land by providing returnees with temporary shelter and supporting the peaceful resolution of land disputes arising from their long absence. The government and its UN partners are also helping landless returnees settle in specially constructed villages, six of which have been opened in 2008 and 2009.