“I don’t know where to go”: Burundian Refugees in Tanzania under Pressure to Leave

Published: 1/Sep/2009
Source: International Refugee Rights Initiative

On 8 May 2009, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Burundi announced at a press conference in Bujumbura, “[w]e are in the final year of repatriation.” This statement reinforced growing pressure on refugees living in Tanzania to return to Burundi and imposed a time limit on a profoundly complex and sensitive process affecting all Burundian refugees living in Tanzania. It also added strain on already limited resources and a tense political environment in Burundi.

Burundian refugees in Tanzania generally fall into three categories: those who fled in 1972 and have been living in settlements and designated villages; those who fled in the 1990s and have been living in camps that have been steadily closed down leaving only one, Mtabila, open; and self-settled refugees who are outside of the official assistance structures. All are coming under considerable pressure from the government of Tanzania and UNHCR to return. Only the first category has been offered an alternative – they are currently being given the option of applying for naturalisation – albeit one that is has its own presenting problems. Mtabila camp, which currently houses approximately 35,000 refugees, is due to close at the end of September, and those from the 1972 group living in settlements who have not applied for naturalisation have been told they must leave the country by the end of the year. Once the settlements and camps are closed, refugees who have not received naturalisation will officially have nowhere to go and will, instead, be forced to become so-called “irregulars”. This raises serious concerns regarding their future protection.

Download report: IRRI: I Dont Know Where to Go


Themes: Mass Expulsions, Nationality and Refugees
Regions: Tanzania
Year: 2009