Tanzania: Tens of thousands of refugees granted citizenship
22 April 2010

Burundian refugees in Kibondo Nduta camp in Tanzania in 2008 (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
“It is one of the most generous gestures ever made towards refugees.”

Ngara, 22 April 2010 – Tanzania granted citizenship to 162,000 refugees who fled the 1972 civil war in Burundi.

The largest ever naturalisation of refugees in the world was described by UN agencies and human rights groups as a historic occasion.

“It is one of the most generous gestures ever made towards refugees”, JRS Tanzania Country Representative, Damas Missanga SJ, said.

In a public statement, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed its gratitude and appreciation to the people and the leadership of Tanzania, and urged the international community and donors to respond positively to assure that the process of integrating these new citizens is fully successful.

“While going home was the preferred option, most were happy and relieved at being granted citizenship. Many were either born, or spent most of their lives here, they feel more at home in Tanzania. Being a citizen means a lot to them. It puts an end to the insecurity and the restrictions of their legal status. They are no longer confined to the settlements but are free to move and live anywhere they wish in the country”, said Fr Missanga.

Many have returned home to Burundi since a peace process began in 2002. Two years ago, the Tanzanian government offered the refugees a choice between naturalisation and returning home. Approximately 75 percent decided to apply for citizenship, while some 54,000 were assisted to return home. The last group of returnees left Burundi late last year.

“We are very happy with our role in the process. The JRS Radio Kwizera programme, Wakati ni Huu (this is the moment), provided impartial information on naturalisation procedures, rights and duties. For those wishing to go home, its broadcasts focused on the security situation in Burundi, land issues, the political process and the assistance on offer from UNHCR and the Burundian authorities” added Fr Missanga.

Other radio programmes covered health, education, arts, sports and soap operas, raising public awareness on human rights, gender, disability and HIV/AIDS-related issues. Prior to 2008, JRS Tanzania also provided education, pastoral and psychosocial services to Burundian refugees.

In 2008, with the arrival of 95,000 Burundian returnees, JRS Burundi expanded its activities to support the durable reintegration of returnees, including the support to establish agricultural-related income generating projects.

Thousands of Burundians who fled ethnic violence that left 200,000 people dead four decades ago have been living in Tanzania, the east African country with one of the largest refugee populations.

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