Refugees from Burundi may be returned back to allow for a peaceful election in Tanzania.
Tanzania says it has reached an agreement with neighboring Burundi to begin sending back all Burundian refugees from October, adding that the repatriation will take place in collaboration with the United Nations.
However, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement that the conditions in Burundi, which was plunged into a political crisis four years ago, are not “conducive to promote returns” and noted that it is assisting refugees who indicate they have made a voluntary choice to return home.
Hundreds of people were killed and more than 400,000 fled to neighboring countries due to violence the UN says was mostly carried out by state security forces following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision in April 2015 to run for a third, disputed, term in office.
Nkurunziza won re-election and, the following year, Burundi suspended all cooperation with the UN human rights office in the country after a UN-commissioned report accused the Bujumbura government and its supporters of being responsible for crimes against humanity.
Currently, some 200,000 Burundians are in Tanzania, according to government figures.
Speaking to the AFP news agency, Tanzanian Interior Minister Kangi Lugola said: “In agreement with the Burundian government and in collaboration with the High Commissioner for Refugees, we will start the repatriation of all Burundian refugees on October 1.”
“Under this agreement, it will be 2,000 refugees who will be repatriated every week until there are no more Burundian refugees in Tanzania,” he said.
‘Returns should be voluntary’
Lugola said that Burundi is currently at peace, adding that he had “information whereby people, international organisation, are deceiving people, telling them there is no peace in Burundi”.
He was speaking after he and Burundian Interior Minister Pascal Barandagiye on Sunday visited a camp where they announced the return to the refugees themselves.
The UNHCR spokesperson for East Horn and Great Lakes, said around 75,000 Burundians had returned home in the past two years. She added, however, that hundreds still flee Burundi each month and urged governments in the region to maintain open borders and access to asylum for those who need it.