Friday, October 04, 2019

Burundians Deported from Tanzania

Tanzania intends to deport up to 200,000 Burundian refugees by year's end. Burundi is going along with the plan, but the UN's refugee agency has objected, demanding voluntary, not forced returns. Nearly 600 Burundian refugees were sent home from Tanzania on Thursday. They make up the first large group to be repatriated as part of a mass deportation operation.

In March 2018, the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Tanzania and Burundi signed a trilateral treaty making it easier for refugees to return home voluntarily. This August, Tanzania and Burundi signed a bilateral deal agreeing to return 200,000 Burundian refugees home by year's end. But the UNHCR is calling on Tanzania's government to refrain from deporting Burundian refugees against their will, saying their lives may be in danger when they get home.

Babar Baloch, global spokesman for the UNHCR, is hoping Tanzania and Burundi will see his organization's point. "Everyone signed the document, both governments agree that a refugee can only be returned when he or she thinks it is time for them to return," said Baloch. "For us, one principle is very important: Let the refugees decide for themselves if it is time for them to return to their country of origin."

"Some people who have been arriving from Burundi still talk about human rights violations and acts of persecution displacing people," Baloch added. "Currently, conditions are not right for mass returns."
According to Kate Pond, the UNHCR's spokeswoman in Tanzania, at least 175,000 Burundian refugees have voluntarily left Tanzania since 2017. Those who left cited poor living conditions in refugee camps and pressure being applied to the Burundian diaspora by the Tanzanian government. 

In one example of the latter, Tanzanian Home Affairs Minister Alphaxard Kangi Lugola announced in late September that 163,000 Burundian refugees who were granted Tanzanian citizenship in 2007 would not be allowed to vote in local elections. Many of those people have lived in the country since 1972. Their exclusion from the vote is apparently connected to a government plan to relocate them to a different part of the country, something that many in the diaspora are vehemently opposed to.
"Life is difficult for us in Tanzania," one refugee told DW. Burundians suffer abuse at every turn, he said: "They destroy our markets, rob us, beat us like animals and jail us. The prison in Kigoma is full of Burundians. More than half the inmates are from Burundi. They work like dogs, day and night."

Serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity continue unabated in Burundi. That was the opinion in a report published last month by the UN's International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. That is also why the UNHCR refuses to support forced deportations, explained Pond. "UNHCR will not support the forced return of refugees," she said. "We have called upon both governments to ensure the voluntariness of repatriation and that it must take place in safety and dignity. We have also urged them to respect the Tripartite Agreement signed by the governments of Tanzania, Burundi and the UNHCR in 2017 to ensure that returns meet international standards."

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