Source: International Refugee Rights Initiative
By Lucy Hovil
On 29 September 2014, at the annual meeting of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ Governing Executive Committee in Geneva, the government of Tanzania announced that it finally intends to deliver on its 2008 promise of citizenship to tens of thousands of former Burundian refugees by offering them proof of their new status as citizens. This promise – if delivered upon – will avert a growing crisis that had made those caught up in its midst effectively stateless.
This predicament has arisen from good intentions: the government of Tanzania was seeking to end exile for this group, not create a situation in which their exile would metamorphose into statelessness. It is rare for countries to offer citizenship to groups of refugees, especially in the Great Lakes region where millions have been displaced. Instead, most governments wait for circumstances to change so that refugees can go back to their home country. In official refugee policy language, therefore, repatriation is typically favoured over local integration as the most desired “durable solution”. In 2008, however, Tanzania challenged this trend. It took the bold and commendable decision to offer naturalisation to approximately 200,000 Burundian refugees who had fled their country in 1972 and were living as refugees in Tanzania. It was an offer that was unprecedented and exceptional in scale not only in Tanzania, but globally. While some of this group of refugees opted to repatriate to Burundi, 162,256 took up the offer to apply for naturalisation.