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UNHCR welcomes Tanzania's naturalization of 162,000 refugees

Briefing Notes, 16 April 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 16 April 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Yesterday, and during a visit by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres to Kenswa village in the Katumba area of Western Tanzania, Tanzania's Home Affairs Minister Lawrence Masha posted the first formal notification list of Burundian refugees who're being granted citizenship. Similar notifications were simultaneously posted by senior immigration officials at all other settlements in the country hosting Burundians who fled to Tanzania in 1972. In total some 162,000 people are affected.

The development is a major milestone in one of Africa's longest-running refugee dramas, and was welcomed by High Commissioner Guterres who expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the people and leadership of Tanzania, describing it as an historic action.

Mr. Guterres also called on the international community to recognize Tanzania's gesture and appealed to donors to respond positively to ensure that the process of integrating these new citizens is fully successful. The High Commissioner urged other countries with long-staying refugee populations to emulate Tanzania's unprecedented decision.

Tanzania's announcement this week follows its offer in 2008 to the so-called '1972 Burundian Refugees' to either be repatriated or apply for citizenship. Those who chose repatriation are now back in their homeland. As recently as 2000, Tanzania's was the largest refugee population in Africa, with over 680,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees in camps in the northwest border regions of Kigoma and Kagera. The majority of them were Burundians who fled during the civil war in the 1990's. Since the peace process started in 2002 some 500,000 Burundian refugees have returned home from neighbouring countries.

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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

Somalia: Zanzibar ReturnPlay video

Somalia: Zanzibar Return

It took more than a decade, but finally a group of families return to Zanzibar in Tanzania after living in exile in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Tanzania: Road to CitizenshipPlay video

Tanzania: Road to Citizenship

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.
Tanzania: Bantu HomecomingPlay video

Tanzania: Bantu Homecoming

For more than four centuries, thousands of ethnic Bantus have lived in Somalia. Now they are making their way to Tanzania, land of their ancestors.