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.