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Improving security situation leads UN refugee agency to close some Tanzanian camps

Improving security situation leads UN refugee agency to close some Tanzanian camps

The United Nations refugee agency plans to close three camps in Tanzania by the middle of this year, driven by dwindling numbers of refugees as the security situation across Africa’s Great Lakes region continues to improve.

About 287,000 people now live in refugee camps across Tanzania, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said yesterday, the lowest total since 1996 and down from more than 500,000 just four years ago. These figures do not include refugees living outside camps.

The sharp reduction in official refugee levels is a result of large-scale voluntary repatriation programmes to Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which are both rebuilding after years of brutal civil war.

UNHCR has helped at least 250,000 Burundians return home since March 2002 and, more recently, has assisted in the repatriation of 23,000 Congolese. Another 75,000 Burundians and 48,000 Congolese are expected to return home this year.

UNHCR’s representative to Tanzania Yacoub El Hillo said two camps were closed last year and the other three will be closed soon so that the agency – which runs the camps in collaboration with Tanzania and partner non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – can consolidate camp dwellers and reduce spending on administration.

“It is a remarkable achievement that the number has dropped so significantly within a few years,” Mr. El Hillo said.

Refugees living in the camps that will be closed will either be repatriated or relocated to other camps inside Tanzania.