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UN refugee chief to head to Uganda and Tanzania

UN refugee chief to head to Uganda and Tanzania

António Guterres visits Mtabila refugee camp in western Tanzania (file photo)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will embark on an 8-day mission next week to Uganda and Tanzania to assess the situation of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

While in Tanzania, António Guterres will kick off a two-year programme to bring an end to one of the world’s oldest protracted refugee situations: the exile of some 218,000 people from neighbouring Burundi who were forced to flee their country in 1972.

“It will be one of our most important programmes on the African continent this year,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said in a press briefing in Geneva.

The so-called “1972 Burundians” are among the hundreds of thousands of Burundians who sought refuge in neighbouring countries that year to escape ethnic violence which killed an estimated 200,000 people. They are distinct from the over 110,000 Burundian refugees who arrived subsequently.

After more than three decades, a breakthrough came last year when Tanzania announced its intention to close ‘Old Settlements’ which have been hosting Burundians who arrived in 1972, and the Governments of both countries have been working with UNHCR to find a solution.

On 9 March, Mr. Guterres will launch the first repatriation by train of the “1972 Burundians” – of whom 20 per cent have expressed their desire to return to their home country – from Katumba settlement in Rukwa district.

Those who wish to stay will be able to register for possible naturalization in Tanzania, and the roughly 76,000 refugees who are over 18 years old are expected to apply for Tanzanian citizenship.

Last week, UNHCR appealed for $34 million to aid the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of the more than 40,000 refugees who wish to return to Burundi and also to assist those who choose to stay in Tanzania to integrate into their local communities.

In addition to Burundians, Tanzania also currently shelters 96,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mr. Redmond said.

During his stop in Uganda, the High Commissioner will visit Mulanda transit centre, where 1,600 of the 12,000 Kenyans who have fled recent post-electoral violence are taking refuge.

He will also meet with some IDPs who have returned to their homes in the Pader district in the north of Uganda. Nearly one million Ugandan IDPs have returned or are preparing to do so since the movements began in 2006.

Since UNHCR started its voluntary repatriation programme in May 2006, almost 35,000 Sudanese refugees have returned home from Uganda.

For the Uganda leg of his trip, Mr. Guterres will be joined by Jean-Louis Schiltz, the Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian of Luxembourg, the top UNHCR donor per capita by far, contributing $25 per inhabitant in both 2006 and 2007.