The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed Tanzania’s decision to allow more time for some 36,000 Burundian refugees who have been living in the country since the 1990s to make their way back to their homeland.
The Mtabila camp in Kasulu district in north-western Tanzania – the last remaining camp hosting Burundian refugees in the country – was scheduled to close on 30 June and all of its residents were expected to voluntarily repatriate, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
But the Government announced on 20 June that the Burundians will have more time to go back home, and that no refugee will be forcibly returned.
“The refugees will now have the chance to plan their return home during the traditional high season for repatriation, which runs to the end of September,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva.
UNHCR has assisted over 485,000 Burundian refugees from Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda to return home voluntarily since 2002.
In addition to those in the Mtabila camp, who fled to Tanzania to escape the ethnic violence in Burundi in the last 16 years, the country is also hosting the so-called “1972” Burundian refugees in western Tanzania.
The Tanzanian Government decided in 2008 to give the latter group a choice to return home or apply for Tanzanian citizenship. Some 165,000 of them decided to stay and applied for naturalization, while another 55,000 opted to return to Burundi.
UNHCR has assisted some 40,000 of them to return so far and the remaining 15,000 are registered to repatriate before the end of the year.