Panafrican News Agency

UNHCR strongly condemns forced return of Burundian refugees in Tanzania

Kigali, Rwanda (PANA) - The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, on Thursday urged the governments of Tanzania and Burundi not to forcibly repatriate Burundian refugees sheltering in Tanzania.

“We call upon the governments of both Tanzania and Burundi’s commitment to uphold international obligations and ensure that any returns are voluntary in line with the tripartite agreement signed in March of 2018,” a statement issued by the UN agency said.

It said that although security generally has improved in Burundi since violence erupted after the 2015 presidential polls, “conditions in Burundi are not currently conducive to promote returns".

In addition, UNHCR urges States to ensure that no refugee is returned to Burundi against their will, and that measures are taken to make conditions in Burundi more conducive for refugees' returns, including confidence building efforts and incentives for those who have chosen to go home.

The reaction by the UN agency comes after Tanzanian authorities confirmed earlier this week they had reached an agreement with Burundi to send all Burundian refugees back home from 1 October.

Latest estimates by UNHCR indicate that about 400,000 Burundian refugees have sought asylum elsewhere in the region. 

Tanzanian authorities have expressed frustration over what they say is the slow pace with which the UN is repatriating refugees back to Burundi. Nearly 75,000 refugees have voluntarily returned to Burundi since December 2017.

Most of the Burundian refugees live in camps in the northwestern region of Kigoma.

In the meanwhile, estimates by human rights organisations show that the humanitarian situation in Burundi has remained dire. The country’s once vibrant civil society and media landscape has been decimated since the crisis began in April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid for a disputed third term.

In Rwanda, close to 90,000 Burundian refugees are living in Mahama camp, the largest camp in Rwanda, and more than 26,400 in Kigali and other towns.

As the insecurity persists in Burundi they are running out of savings, which will increase their need for assistance, the UN agency said.

-0- PANA TWA/MA 29Aug2019