Repatriation of Burundian refugees from Tanzania: JRS position
1. To date, peace has not yet been restored in Burundi. Refugees should not be required to go back into a situation of continuing violence (details here). As a precondition for return, there must be a cease-fire which is honoured by all parties to the conflict
2. We recognise that the great fear of refugees in the Tanzania camps is returning to a country with a mono-ethnic (Tutsi) army, which has a long history of killing large numbers of civilians and fuelling displacement. While there has been some progress towards a bi-ethnic army, as required by the Arusha peace agreement, there is still an absence of Hutus in the higher ranks. While refugees still fear the army, they fear returning to their homes.
3. We are aware that there are still large numbers of displaced people within Burundi. We believe that forced repatriation will only exacerbate displacement in Burundi and lead to further insecurity.
4. We are deeply concerned that land issues remain a major source of possible conflict in the event of repatriation. Land is scarce in Burundi, and those attempting to return to their former homes may find others living there. Indeed, given the successive waves of refugees who have left their homes, proper ownership may be very difficult to determine. Without a clear, fair and agreed method of adjudication, there is a very high likelihood of future conflict.
Experience shows that large-scale returns in a short space of time can have a further destabilizing effect, as happened at the time of the elections in 1993. To avoid future tragedy, it is our view as JRS that repatriation should not be encouraged until the above conditions are fulfilled and the security of the refugees is guaranteed and monitored on their return to Burundi.
In the meantime, refugees must be guaranteed safety and adequate living standards within Tanzania, so that they are not forced to return as a result of difficulties and dangers experienced in exile. We appreciate the generosity of the Tanzanian government to date in hosting large numbers of refugees, and we note that it is also in the interests of Tanzania to avoid a premature return which leads to renewed conflict and further refugee flows.
We call on the EU, as the major donor to ECHO funds and to the Tanzanian government, to exercise its considerable influence in order to ensure the protection of the human rights of the refugees within the Tanzanian territory and to prevent a potentially disastrous premature return.