The long saga of hundreds of thousands of Burundians who fled to Tanzania to escape decades of ethnic conflict in their small homeland is finally approaching its end with the last camps closing down as the refugees return home or integrate into the host country, the United Nations reported today.
As of January only a single camp and less than 50,000 refugees will be left from those who fled Burundi in the 1990s, while the camps of those who came in an earlier wave in 1972 are being closed as scores of thousands seek Tanzanian citizenship.
“So far, we have organized and assisted the return of some 357,000 refugees, 63,000 of them this year,” Ron Redmond, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on the 1990s wave, noting that many others returned on their own and received assistance once they arrived in Burundi. “We estimate that in total, more than 470,000 Burundians have returned home from Tanzania and other asylum countries over the past six years.”
UNHCR is currently relocating the 10,000 remaining refugees from Nduta to Mtabila camp which, as of January, will be the only camp in Tanzania hosting the remaining 46,450 Burundians from the 1990s influx. In 2000, Burundians were one of the largest refugee populations in the world – second only to Afghans. The UNHCR-organized voluntary repatriation, begun in 2002, has been one of the most successful operations in Africa.
A separate repatriation for the so-called 1972 Burundians was launched in March this year and saw the return home of another 30,000 people. After 35 years, the breakthrough came in 2007 when the Government of Tanzania indicated its intention to close the so-called old settlements.
The Governments of both countries worked with UNHCR on a strategy to bring closure to this long-drawn-out displacement chapter, with Tanzania offering local integration, including naturalization and citizenship, to those wishing to stay. Some 165,000 have submitted citizenship applications, which are now being processed.
In the meantime, UNHCR together with the Tanzanian Government is consolidating and closing their camps along the Burundian border. Over the past two years, six have been closed.