By Millicent Zighe
Tanzania is planning to send Burundi refugees home from October this year fueling fears of forced returns among those who fled the violence.
The decision came after the two countries reached an agreement to start a repatriation programme in collaboration with United Nations. “In an agreement with the Burundian government and in collaboration with the High Commissioner for Refugees, we will start the repatriation of all Burundians refugees on October 1. Under this agreement, 2000 refugees will be repatriated every week until there are no more Burundian refugees in Tanzania,” said Tanzania’s Home Affairs Minister Kangi Lugola.
However, a statement released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) agency denied the claims saying the security situation in the country is still fraught with challenges. “While the overall security has improved, UNHCR is of the opinion conditions in Burundi are not currently conducive to promote returns. However, we are assisting refugees who indicate they have made a free and informed choice to voluntarily return. Nearly 75,000 refugees have returned to Burundi since September 2017, citing the wish to return to their houses and farms and to reunite with family” the statement read in part. Additionally, the agency urged the two countries to uphold international obligations and ensure that returns are in line with the tripartite agreement signed in March 2018.
So far, the provinces with the highest number of returnees from Tanzania as of July 2019, include Ruyigi, Muyinga and Makamba. Sadly, life at home has proven to be tough for many returnees as Burundi has no proper mechanisms to reintegrate them back into society. Moreover, some are harassed upon arrival by security forces and government sponsored militia, the Imbonerakure Youth Group. As a result, majority of refugees are against the idea of going back home citing safety concerns. “Most of us are not ready to return, because the security situation has not improved. People are being killed, some disappearing and being arrested illegally,” one of the refugees told Voice of Africa in a phone interview.
Human Rights Monitors have opposed the move by both countries. Presently, some people are still fleeing the tiny East African Nation. Over and above, the country is set to have elections in 2020, the activists fear that the situation may get worse.
Burundi Interior Minister Pascal Barandagiye has denied the human rights violations allegations and urged refugees to come back home saying the country is cal. “There is no reason for refugees to stay in Tanzania’ while their home country is at peace”. He further encouraged UNHRC to support the initiative.
Tanzania has provided shelter to hundreds of refugees from the region for years following the country’s political upheaval in 2015. Nonetheless it hasn’t been all rosy for Burundian refugees. Reports have surfaced of Tanzania banning some economic activities in the camps constraining refugees’ livelihood. Additionally, security personnel have been forcing shelter seekers to sign up for the repatriation programme. Freedom of movement is also restricted in Tanzanian camps, those who fall afoul of this policy risk arrest.