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UNHCR statement on Voluntary Returns from Tanzania to Burundi

Speeches and statements

UNHCR statement on Voluntary Returns from Tanzania to Burundi

22 May 2024

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is very concerned over news articles circulating recently in national media in Tanzania regarding returns of Burundian refugees.

UNHCR is aware these articles state that refugees have been informed by Tanzanian officials of the alleged intention to close Nduta refugee camp - home to over 63,000 refugees - by the end of this year. The news reports further allege that services for refugees will be ceased, with the aim to deteriorate living conditions to coerce refugees to opt to return to Burundi, and that refugee status would cease for Burundian refugees in the country.

UNHCR immediately met with Tanzania’s Ministry of Home Affairs to raise these concerns, stressing the need for all refugee returns to be voluntary and in line with the Tripartite Agreement on voluntary return of Burundian refugees between the Governments of the United Republic of Tanzania, the Republic of Burundi and UNHCR. In the recent discussions with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the government has reassured UNHCR that the camps will remain open, and no one will be forced to return. UNHCR has also clarified the process for invoking cessation of refugee status, which is a process that requires time to assess and ensure conditions are in place.

UNHCR is very grateful to the government of Tanzania for reaffirming its long-standing commitment to continue hosting Burundian refugees, and for assuring that the government will look into solutions for those refugees that may have protection concerns preventing their return. UNHCR will continue to work together with the government in the refugee response as well as ensure that refugees who have made the informed, free, and voluntary decision to return can do so in safety and in dignity.

In November 2023, UNHCR together with the Governments of the United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Burundi agreed to promote voluntary repatriation to Burundi according to the provisions of the Tripartite Agreement of May 2001. This process is guided by a well-defined roadmap that include provisions such as the expansion of awareness raising and counselling, necessary to enable refugees to make informed decisions to return. Meanwhile, Burundian refugees would continue to benefit from international protection in Tanzania.

UNHCR continues to promote and facilitate voluntary repatriation to Burundi for those who make a free and informed choice to do so. So far this year more than 4,000 Burundian refugees have been assisted to return home from Tanzania.

Since the start of the voluntary repatriation exercise in September 2017, more than 230,000 refugees have returned home to Burundi from neighbouring countries, including over 168,000 from Tanzania.

UNHCR urges the Government of Burundi and the international community for more investments to improve conditions that are conducive for return in Burundi and ensure returnees can live in dignity and thrive in their communities.

Tanzania has generously hosted refugees for decades. Currently there are some 241,000 refugees mainly from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo living in two camps – Nyarugusu in Kasulu District and Nduta in Kibondo District.  As of 30 April 2024, UNHCR has only received 13 per cent of the US$114 million required to protect and assist refugees in Tanzania this year. We continue to appeal for more financial resources to meet their needs.