The decision of Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third term in 2015 triggered a political crisis and widespread violence in that country, with hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees fleeing to neighboring Tanzania. Three years later, the government of Burundi now claims that political stability has been restored and is working with the Tanzanian government to urge these refugees to come back, but many are fearful of what awaits them if they do.
The two countries, together with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), agreed in August 2017 to assist in the repatriation, and so far some 33,000 Burundians have voluntarily returned. But more than 230,000 want to remain in Tanzania for now because of ongoing human rights abuses in their home country. Nevertheless, in recent months the Tanzanian government has been increasing pressure on the Burundian refugees to leave. Applications by these refugees for Tanzanian citizenship have been suspended. Market days in the camps have been reduced, and trade in non-food items has been forbidden, thus limiting the refugees’ opportunities to supplement the meager humanitarian funding they receive. Movement outside of the refugee camps has been severely restricted.
Reacting against this undue pressure, the UNHCR has been insisting that repatriation must be voluntary. The UNHCR and the Tanzanian government need to work together to find an approach which assures the safety of the refugees.
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