International Refugee Rights Initiative and Rema Ministries
On 21 July 2012, Tanzania’s Daily News reported that Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete, had announced that “all refugee camps sheltering Burundian refugees would be closed down”. There was, the paper quoted him as saying, “no strong reason for the Burundians to stay […] when back home peace had been restored and life was back to normal in their motherland.”
The President’s comments intensified the fear and uncertainty that has been growing among Burundian refugees who have been living in Tanzania over the last number of years, but particularly those in Mtabila camp to whom the statement seemed to be chiefly directed. This population of approximately 38,000 refugees – most of whom fled Burundi in the 1990s – has been under mounting pressure to repatriate to Burundi. They have been threatened with termination of their refugee status, closure of the camp and subjected to restrictions on basic assistance, access to livelihoods and freedom of movement. On 31 July, a press statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs declared that “38,050 refugees” in Mtabila camp were to be “stripped” of their refugee status. This formal statement, referencing Article 4 of the Tanzanian Refugees Act and declaring that the camp would be closed on 31 December 2012, while not unexpected, brought the situation to a new climax.
This urgent briefing, based upon prior research in Mtabila camp during 2011 and a series of follow up email exchanges and phone interviews conducted with refugees in Mtabila camp in June 2012, sets out some of the key challenges experienced by Mtabila’s refugees to date in the effort to close and vacate the camp. It focuses on the recent screening process, which was intended to identify who in the group required continued international protection prior to decisions on cessation. It concludes with a series of recommendations which could help to ensure that the outcome of the decision to declare cessation is one that increases peace and stability rather than exacerbates it.