Resisting Repatriation: Burundian Refugees Struggling to Stay in Tanzania
(4 October 2011) On 25 May 2011, a Tripartite Commission comprised of the governments of Tanzania and Burundi and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met to discuss the future of approximately 38,000 refugees in Mtabila camp in Tanzania. The talks ended with a decision to close the camp on 31 December 2011. The government of Tanzania has announced that they expect a renewed repatriation drive to start imminently and that they are prepared to revoke the refugee status of the group “if need be.”
Although refugees in Mtabila camp have been resisting return for more than two years, weathering numerous “deadlines” for repatriation and the steady withdrawal of services, there is growing fear among refugees that the current deadline of 31 December 2011, this time reinforced with the threat that refugee status will be revoked, is going to lead to forcible repatriation. In September 2011, the Ministry of Home Affairs and UNHCR began carrying out interviews in the camps aimed at assessing the continuing protection needs of the population. This development is evidence of the seriousness of preparations that are underway for withdrawing refugee status through the application of the “ceased circumstances” provisions of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
Not surprisingly, these latest decisions (to close the camp, to discuss cessation formally and to carry out screening) have intensified fear and concern among the refugees. Having resisted incentives and considerable pressure to return over the past two years, these developments have done little to alter the refugees’ views on the potential for safe return. They have, however, intensified feelings of marginalisation and fear.
Based on interviews with twenty two refugees in Mtabila, and building on previous extensive research on Burundian refugees and returnees, the International Refugee Rights Initiative and Rema Ministries’ 15 page report, Resisting Repatriation: Burundian Refugees Struggling to Stay in Tanzania,highlights the precarious situation in Mtabila camp and highlights the fears and concerns of the refugees. The findings make clear that refugees are concerned about their economic and physical security if they return to Burundi. Yet life in the camp is becoming increasingly precarious in the camps: refugees have been forbidden from engaging in income generating activities, their rations have been cut, medical provisions are minimal, educational opportunities are drying up and refugees feel unable to speak freely.
Adding to this already tense environment, as many as 200 refugees were arrested in September for violating the provisions of the Tanzania Refugees Act 1998 in particular prohibitions against refugee movement outside the camps. This has added to the state of fear and uncertainty in which refugees live. In the words of one refugee: “nobody really knows what will happen. I cannot commit myself to saying what will happen.”
Read the full report at http://www.refugee-rights.org/Assets/PDFs/2011/ResistingRepatriation-FINAL2.pdf
Source: International Refugee Rights Initiative