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UNHCR reaffirms support for integration of 1972 Burundians in Tanzania

News Stories, 29 August 2011

© UNHCR/M.Brook
Deputy High Commissioner T. Alexander Aleinikoff is greeted by students during his visit to Tanzania.

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, August 29 (UNHCR) A top UNHCR official has reaffirmed the agency's commitment to support Tanzania's integration of tens of thousands of former Burundian refugees who fled their homeland in 1972.

UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees T. Alexander Aleinikoff made the pledge during a visit on Saturday to Ulyankulu, one of three settlements where the so-called 1972 Burundian refugees have been living for decades. The Tanzanian government last year granted citizenship to more than 162,000 of them, but it plans to close the settlements and integrate the Burundians in other regions of the country.

Aleinikoff praised Tanzania for its "unprecedented and tremendously generous policy." He said that "finding durable solutions for these types of protracted situations is never easy," while adding that "UNHCR and the entire international community are committed to supporting the integration of the newly naturalized Tanzanians."

The Deputy High Commissioner discussed the future with several newly naturalized residents during his visit to Ulyankulu in western Tanzania, including Kisomera Zebedayo Kanindo and his family.

Kanindo said that when he first heard about the government decision to give the 1972 Burundian refugees the option of returning home some 54,000 decided to repatriate or becoming naturalized citizens, he ran home to tell his wife and six children.

The farmer is now waiting to move to another region of Tanzania under the government's strategy to locally integrate its newest citizens and close the chapter on one of Africa's most protracted refugee situations.

Kanindo knows that he faces many challenges in starting a new life. "I am worried about access to schooling for my children and about where I'm going to live, but mostly I worry about what I can grow and when I will move," he told Aleinikoff.

But he was also proud and happy. "We are good and hard-working people and we are proud to be Tanzanians," he stressed.

Aleinikoff assured those he met at Ulyankulu that UNHCR would help to ease their transition. "Being uprooted is always difficult and nobody understands this better than refugees," he noted.

As part of the relocation plan, UNHCR will provide financial support to the new citizens and will work with the government and UN development partners to ensure that they can send their children to school, access local services and receive formal certificates of citizenship.

During his four-day visit to Tanzania, the Deputy High Commissioner also visited the Mtabila camp for Burundian refugees in Kigoma region. The government plans to close the camp at the end of the year. The residents fled their country in the 1990s.

By Jerome Seregni in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania




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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.

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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.

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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.

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