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Over 7,000 Burundi refugees ready to go home voluntarily’

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Home Affairs minister George Simbachawene said here yesterday that the government is currently working on logistics to take them back home in collaboration with the government of Burundi and other stakeholders.

Speaking at the launch of a consultative symposium for a book on Tanzania’s contribution in hosting refugees and asylum seekers since pre-independence days, he said 90,000 Burundian refugees have already been returned home under the voluntary repatriation arrangement.

Tanzania has been home to refugees since colonial times, but more came after independence, from troubled neighbouring countries and fewer as freedom fighters from southern African countries.

As for the Burundian refugees, the minister asserted that the country is now peaceful and the refugees are free to go back home, but only those who sign up voluntarily will be repatriated.

The first batch of 590 refugees left for Burundi in October last year, as part of a program for the mass repatriation of those who fled political violence in the neighbouring country five years ago.

More than 400,000 Burundians crossed the border due to a surge of political violence in 2015 as the late Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in office, with opponents seeing this move as breaching the constitution.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said up to 182,000 Burundians have been living in three camps located in Kigoma Region, while the issue of return has been contentious.

The governments of Tanzania and Burundi insist that peace has returned to Burundi and citizens are free to go back home, while UNHCR maintains a more cautious approach.

After Tanzania and Burundi signed the bilateral voluntary repatriation agreement in August last year, UNHCR urged the two governments to ensure that refugee return to Burundi remains voluntary and not under pressure.

“Recently, we have noted mounting pressure on Burundian refugees and asylum-seekers to return home – despite assurances from the authorities that all returns will be voluntary and free from intimidation, and no refugee will be forcibly returned,” the agency said in a statement in October laxt year.

“We continue to call upon both governments to uphold refugees’ freedom of choice with regard to return, and to ensure that returns are made in safety and dignity, with UNHCR having access on both sides of the border to carry out its protection mandate, including monitoring returnees in Burundi,” the agency emphasized.

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