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Refugees face mounting
pressure to go home

                                                                            Photo: IRIN
Reluctant: only a few hundred Burundian refugees returned home from Tanzania in 2011
                                      (file photo)
DAR ES SALAAM/BUJUMBURA, 24 February 2012 (IRIN) - Pressure is
mounting on tens of thousands of Burundian nationals who fled to Tanzania
during the civil war in the early 1990s to return home, despite their reluctance to

Burundi’s civil war ended in 2005 but it remains in a state of acrimonious political
deadlock, with widespread reports of assassinations and human rights abuses
since elections in 2010.

After several postponed deadlines since 2009, Mtabila camp, in western
Tanzania and home to almost 38,000 Burundians, is set to close at end-2012,
with repatriations scheduled to take place between April and November,
according to an agreement reached by both countries and the UN Refugee
Agency (UNHCR).

Following a detailed questionnaire conducted by UNHCR and Tanzanian officials
in December 2011, 33,708 refugees in Mtabila were found to be “not in need of
international protection”.

In the absence of a successful appeal against this unprecedented determination,
those who “are unwilling, without justifiable grounds, to return to Burundi, will find
themselves liable to be dealt with under relevant Tanzanian laws, including those
for immigration control and management”, according to the communiqué
released on 22 February after the tripartite meeting.

Tanzania has hosted tens of thousands of refugees from Burundi over the past
four decades, but is now “resolute” that the camp will close at the end of this

UNHCR Burundi representative Clementine Nkweta–Salami said after the
meeting in Bujumbura that the reasons most Mtabila residents gave for not
wanting to return to Burundi “were not based on the international [refugee]
“That is why we are going to focus our efforts on persuading them to return in
security and dignity. We do not want a situation where they are forced out but
they must understand that refugee status is not indefinite and if they do not have
well-founded reasons they must reflect and return home,” she said.

                                   Photo: UNHCR
Incentive: Burundi has been urged to improve
educational facilities for returning refugee
Burundi’s Minister of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender, Clotilde
Niragira, said: “A person who fled in 1993 cannot refuse to return because of
security. Even if there are still problems, the country is safe.”

Information campaign

Despite UNHCR’s offer of assistance and cash incentives, just a few hundred
Burundian refugees returned from Tanzania in 2011.

In an effort to accelerate the process, government ministers are set to visit the
camp in March as part of a “mass information campaign”.

If they lose the right to stay as refugees in Tanzania, those in Mtabila will have
little option but to return to Burundi. Tanzania has indicated it will not extend to
them a naturalization process benefiting some 160,000 Burundians in the country
as a result of the 1973 influx.

Opportunities for resettlement elsewhere are limited to any places offered by
third countries via UNHCR.

For many in Mtabila, fear of insecurity and the prospect of having no land seem
to be the main reasons for the reluctance to return.

“If I repatriate I will be killed because the authorities that rule the country today
think that whoever did not repatriate before is on the side of those who are in
opposition, those who fight the government,” one female Mtabila resident
told International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) during an investigation into
conditions in the camp.

IRRI’s report said income-generating opportunities, education facilities,
sanitation, water and freedom of movement had been significantly restricted in

Theo Mbazumutima of Rema Ministries, a Christian NGO working with refugees,
said of those in the camp: “They are still hoping this latest wasn’t the final
[decision,] because in the past the authorities have not kept to their deadlines.

“Last time they didn’t take them back by force and they’re hoping these are just
threats. I don’t think so. This is genuine,” he said.


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