More than 200,000 Burundian refugees who have sought refuge in Tanzanian have until 1 October to go home or they will be forced to leave, Tanzania’s interior minister has told the BBC.
“Now there is peace in Burundi, so refugees have until the 1 October to repatriate. After that we will send them back whether they want to or not,” Kangi Lugola said.
The Burundians had fled political unrest in 2015 amid protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ultimately successful third-term bid and a subsequent failed coup.
A referendum two months later overwhelmingly voted for constitutional reforms that could allow Mr Nkurunziza to stay in office until 2034, although he has said he will not seek re-election next year.
The refugees have settled in the Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendeli camps in Tanzania’s south-western province of Kigoma.
Tanzania is party to the UN refugee convention, which prohibits the forceful return to countries that people have fled from.
But Mr Lugola said the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) had not respected an agreement made last year between Tanzania and Burundi to repatriate 2,000 refugees every week.
Last Friday, Mr Lugola and his Burundian counterpart, Pascal Barandagiye visited the Nduta refugee camp warning those that strong measures would be taken if repatriations did not start soon.
One refugee, who requested anonymity, told the BBC that he did not feel safe to return:
” It’s very unfortunate, what have the international community or Tanzania done to stop Nkurunziza’s government from persecuting people? There are killings, abductions and dead bodies found later. They are pushing us back to be killed.”
It’s very unfortunate, what have the international community or Tanzania done to stop Nkurunziza’s government from persecuting people? There are killings, abductions and dead bodies found later. They are pushing us back to be killed.”
In a statement to the BBC, UNHCR’s regional spokesperson Dana Hughes called for the two countries to respect international conventions and the rights of refugees.
Ms Hughes said the UN refugee agency had been involved in the voluntarily repatriation of Burundi refugees in Tanzania.
She added that 100 new refugees were still fleeing from Burundi to Tanzania every month.