“I can’t be a citizen if I am still a refugee”: Former Burundian Refugees Struggle to Assert their new Tanzanian Citizenship

Published: 1/Mar/2013
Source: International Refugee Rights Initiative

It is rare for host 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 had since been living as refugees in Tanzania. It was an offer that was unprecedented in scale not only in Tanzania, but across the globe. While some of this group of refugees opted to repatriate to Burundi, 162,256 took up the offer of applying for naturalisation.

This paper builds on previous research conducted in 20083 and focuses on whether or not the offer of naturalisation has translated into genuine citizenship for this group of (former) refugees at both a legal and practical level. Based on interviews with former refugees, local government officials and members of the host community, as well as engagement with national government officials, the findings show that the former refugees are—as a matter of practice—caught somewhere between refugee status and the genuine assertion of their new citizenship. An unprecedented offer has become increasingly caught up in the realities of implementation and realpolitik. While it is important not to detract from the level of generosity that the government of Tanzania’s original offer demonstrated, the process has revealed a disjuncture between presentation and reality and the whole undertaking appears to be in jeopardy.

Download report: IRRI I can’t be a citizen if I am still a refugee

Themes: Nationality and Refugees
Regions: Tanzania
Year: 2013