Tanzania gives Burundian refugees more time to return home

Briefing Notes, 30 June 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 June 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has welcomed a decision by the Tanzanian government to give more time for the voluntary repatriation of some 36,000 Burundian camp-based refugees.

The Mtabila refugee camp in Kasulu district in north-western Tanzania, the last remaining camp hosting Burundian refugees in the country, was scheduled for closure today, 30 June, when all its residents were expected to voluntarily repatriate home.

However, on June 20 World Refugee Day the Tanzanian Minister of Home Affairs, Hon. Lawrence Masha, announced that more time will be given to the Burundians, who have been refugees in the country since 1990s, to go back to Burundi.

The refugees will now have the chance to plan their return home during the traditional high season for repatriation which runs to the end of September.

The Minister also reiterated that no refugee will be forcibly returned and reaffirmed his government's commitment to uphold international laws and standards relating to the protection of refugees.

The Burundian peace process has paved the way for the return of one of Africa's longest staying refugee populations. Since 2002, UNHCR has assisted the voluntary repatriation of over 485,000 Burundian refugees from the neighbouring countries of Tanzania, DRC and Rwanda.

Over the last 37 years, Burundi's conflict has triggered waves of displacement, making the central African nation one of the biggest refugee producing countries in the world.

The remaining 36,000 refugees in Mtabila camp fled to Tanzania to escape the ethnic violence in Burundi in the last 16 years.

In addition, there are the "1972" Burundian refugees in three 'old settlements' in Rukwa and Tabora regions in western Tanzania. In a landmark decision in 2008, the Tanzanian government gave a choice to these refugees to return home or apply for Tanzanian citizenship.

Some 165,000 of them decided to stay and applied for naturalisation, while another 55,000 opted to return to Burundi. Of these, some 40,000 have returned home with the help of UNHCR and the remaining 15,000 are registered to repatriate to their homeland before the end of year.