Tanzania: Repatriation and closure of refugee camps in the North-West ongoing
21 November 2008

Burundi refugee children play in Kibondo Nduta Camp in Tanzania. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
For decades, Tanzania has hosted one of the world’s largest refugee populations, mostly coming from neighbouring countries Burundi and DRC which have been affected by civil war for years.
Mwanza, 21 November 2008 In 2002 the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Tanzanian government considered the security situation in Burundi stable and assisted about 353,000 Burundians to return to their home country. Respectively, the repatriation process for Congolese refugees was launched in 2005 and 60,000 Congolese camp refugees have since been repatriated.

Voluntary repatriation was encouraged by UNHCR through so called “Go and See,” and “Come and Tell” visits where a group of refugees from a certain camp had a chance to go and visit their country and refugees who repatriated came to tell refugees in the camps about the situation they were experiencing on the ground. Since most of the Congolese refugees residing in Kigoma region come from South Kivu the ongoing crisis in the North Kivu province of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has not been considered an obstacle for their repatriation. Nevertheless the number of refugees repatriating has dropped to a low of 200 per week due to the current unrest and fear that fighting could move southwards. At present, more than 80,000 refugees remain at Lugufu and Nyaragusu camps.

UNHCR and the Governments of Tanzania and DRC are hopeful the large number of refugees will return to their country of origin. They believe that the situation in South Kivu is not affected by the recent fighting in North Kivu and hence conducive for return. As a result all the camp markets and schools in Lugufu camp have been closed and small income-generating activities have been stopped.

Transition in refugee camps

So far, 4 of the 5 camps in Kibondo District have been closed. Nduta camp, which is the last remaining, still hosts a population of about 9,920 Burundian refugees. It is expected to be closed by the end of November this year after two attempts to close it last June and September failed due to logistical issues. The camp has now been deemed a transit centre.

Of the 3 camps in Kasulu District, one has been closed in 2006 after the repatriation of the Burundian refugees. Of the remaining two, Mutabila camp still hosts a population of 38,000 Burundians but convoys of about 400 to 500 refugees leave from there to Burundi every week.

In Kigoma District, the two Lugufu camps have been consolidated after a good number of Congolese refugees had returned to DRC. Lugufu 1 which hosts 30,000 refugees at the moment, will be open until May 2009, when remaining refugees will be relocated to Nyarugusu camp which is currently hosting 49,534 refugees.

For decades, Tanzania has hosted one of the world’s largest refugee populations, mostly coming from neighbouring countries Burundi and DRC which have been affected by civil war for years. A huge influx of refugees came from Rwanda in 1994 and stayed at Benaco refugee camp which was closed in 1996 after the refugees were repatriated.

Conflict leads to more refugees in Tanzania

The outbreak of civil war in Burundi after the death of the nation’s first democratically elected president Melchior Ndadaye in 1993 and the outbreak of civil war in the DRC in 1998 led to an increased number of refugees flowing into north-western Tanzania. Hundreds of thousands of refugees crossed the Tanzanian border into the districts of Ngara, Kibondo, Kasulu and Kigoma, where, for the following 10-15 years, they were accommodated in 11 camps, making Tanzania Africa’s leading refugee-hosting country.

It was due to the pressures arising from these emergencies that the Tanzanian government replaced its initial policy to host refugees under a rural-settlement approach with a camp-centred and repatriation-focused model that continues today. Whilst a local integration approach was used mainly for the Burundians who fled their country in 1972 (the “1972 Burundians”) resettlement has benefited only a small number of 7000 refugees, leaving voluntary repatriation as the only durable solution for the majority of the camp-based refugees.

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