Tanzania has submitted a request to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) asking partners to help fund a voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees.
Tanzanian Interior Minister Hamad Yusuf Masauni made the call on Wednesday during the 73rd meeting of the UNHCR Executive Committee held in Geneva, Switzerland.
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Mr Masauni argues that the political situation in Burundi has improved since President Evariste Ndayishimiye took power in 2020 and that refugees from Nyarugusu and Ndutu camps in the Kigoma region are expected to return home.
For the plan to succeed, the authorities will first have to convince refugees still skeptical about repatriation, the minister said, presenting the country’s reports on the situation of refugees, during a meeting chaired by the commissioner general of the UNHCR , Filipo Grandi.
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Since 2018, three years after the political stalemate in Burundi led to a mass exodus of its citizens to neighboring states, including Tanzania, the two East African countries have held a series of meetings on the return of refugees, but in vain.
Hundreds of Burundians are reluctant to return home, fearing for their safety. In 2015, then-president Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term after a contested law change that removed the two-term limit. During the fight, more than 400,000 citizens fled to Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
According to Tanzanian government figures, 200,000 Burundians have entered Tanzania through porous borders and are being hosted in designated refugee camps at Nyarugusu and Ndutu.
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In 2018, Tanzania announced that it would repatriate all Burundian refugees on its soil, but the exercise was postponed due to the insecurity and political situation prevailing in Burundi at the time.
A year later, the two countries agreed in principle to embark on the repatriation of refugees, but only 64,000 expressed their wish to be repatriated from camps in northwestern Tanzania. The voluntary exercise took place in October 2019.
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Statistics from the Tanzanian Ministry of Interior show that there are still 136,221 Burundians in the country’s refugee camps. This is after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a statement that returnees should not be forcibly returned but should only return home voluntarily.