Lusaka- Zambia (PANA) -- Tanzanian authorities must ensure that thousands of Buru ndian refugees who have been living in the Mbatila camp are not sent back to the i r country under coercion, as suggested by recent reports, Amnesty International ( AI) said Monday.
“We are worried about reports of refugees being pressured to leave the Mbatila c amp.
Some of their homes have been set on fire, while other refugees have receiv e d threats of arson,” Godfrey Odongo, AI's East Africa researcher, said in a stat e ment.
“It is all the more worrying that these actions have been carried out by individ uals said to be directly instructed by the Tanzanian authorities,” he added.
More than 36,000 refugees have been hosted over the years in the Mbatila camp af ter fleeing from the conflict in Burundi.
The camp is set to close Tuesday (30 June) as part of a repatriation programme t hat will see all refugees returned to Burundi.
The programme is being implemented under a tripartite agreement signed by the Go vernments of Tanzania and Burundi and the United Nations High Commissioner for R e fugees (UNHCR) in April 2002.
AI said, however, that contrary to international and regional law, there is no p rocedure in place to assess any individual claims by refugees and asylum-seekers of well-founded fears of persecution.
“Both Burundi and Tanzania must make it clear to the refugees that any repatriat ion programme is voluntary and offer the refugees alternative and durable soluti o ns such as local integration,” said Odongo.
“Any coercion of refugees to return t o their original country would be a breach of international and regional law.
” He said any repatriation must respect the relevant principles of refugee protect ion and that voluntary returns must be based on a free and informed decision tak e n in safety and dignity.
“Intimidation, removing assistance or closing camps can amount to coercion, whic h means repatriations would be involuntary and potentially unlawful,” Odongo sai d