Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (PANA) - The Tanzania government has reaffirmed its intention to close down its last camp for refugees from neighbouring Burundi this year.
The government has also announced it will start interviewing the refugees in September to determine those who may still need international protection.
Home Affairs Minister Shamsi Vuai Nahodha said his ministry and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, would jointly interview 38,000 Barundi refugees, currently hosted at Mtabila camp in Kasulu District of western Tanzania.
Nahodha has told UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees T. Alexander Aleinikof that the government wants all refugee operations at the camp to stop permanently by 31 December 2011.
Concluding a four-day visit to Tanzania, Aleinikof told the minister that voluntary repatriation was the best solution for the refugees in Mtabila camp.
However, Aleinikof reminded the government that any repatriation should be conducted in a manner that is duly compliant with the standards and principles of international refugee protection.
During the tour, Aleinikoff met with various government officials to discuss the state of
refugee operations in Tanzania, with a special interest in the relocation of 162,000 newly-naturalised citizens (former Barundi), who are currently living in their old settlements in Rukwa and Tabora regions of western Tanzania.
In discussion with Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, the UNHCR deputy chief expressed his gratitude for the “unprecedented humanitarian gesture” of the Tanzanian government to offer citizenship to such a large number of former refugees.
“This is a historic contribution to regional stability,” said Aleinikoff after the meeting. “UNHCR and the international community will work with the Government of Tanzania to complete this exercise and locally integrate these naturalised individuals.''
He said the UNHCR was ready to provide final integration support at district level for the naturalised refugees, who are preparing to move from the old settlements and settle permanently in different regions of the country.
UNHCR seeks to engage development actors in providing support for the local integration programme that includes provision and expansion of social services in villages designated to receive the new citizens..
While striving to find a lasting solution to the refugee problem, Tanzania still hosts some 61,000 Congolese refugees at Nyarugusu camp, also in Kasulu district.
The general concern for both the government and UNHCR is to reassess the situation and conditions in DR Congo after general elections have taken place in November 2011.
Most of the refugees at the camp fled bloody conflicts in the mid and late 1990s.
Despite peace assurances given by authorities in the DRC, the refugees are doubtful that the situation has returned to normal in their native locations.
-0- PANA AR/SEG 30Aug2011