By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) – Tanzania on Thursday began repatriating 1000 Burundians, who had taken refuge in 2015, following political violence and instability in their country.
“Today [Thursday] we are repatriating 1000 refugees with all their belongings. All international organizations are aware of this operation,” Director of Information Services and Government Spokesperson, Hassan Abbasi told reporters.
In April 2015 protests broke out in the landlocked East African country Burundi, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term in office. A coup attempt failed to dislodge him, leading to a clamp down and arrests. Over 300,000 people left the country, causing a humanitarian crisis.
In August, Tanzania and Burundi agreed to repatriate all the refugees peacefully to their homes, by the end of 2019. The mass repatriation was supposed to commence from Oct.1.
Reports said that the first batch of 1000 refugees were transported by buses to Gisuru transit center in eastern Burundi, where they stayed overnight.
According to officials, they will be transported to their home districts along with rations, that will sustain them for three months.
Abbasi said the Tanzanian government and the international agencies will ensure the refugees are at peace in their country.
The UN High Commission for Refugees has asked Tanzania's government to avoid forceful repatriation of refugees.
“While an overall security has improved, UNHCR is of the opinion that conditions in Burundi are not currently conducive to promote returns,” the UN agency responsible for the welfare for refugees said in a statement in August.
However, Abbasi emphasized that repatriation is voluntary. “All those refugees, leaving camps were eager to go home,” he said.
He stressed that Tanzania respects international agreements on refugees and would ensure the repatriation process takes place well within international humanitarian laws.
Nestor Bimenyimana, the director general of repatriation and rehabilitation department in Burundi’s Home Ministry told local media that the UNHCR is involved in the identification and registration of Burundian refugees, willing to be repatriated from Tanzania.
“We don’t force anyone to register,” he said.
According to the UN agency, as many as 343,000 refugees, were living in the neighboring countries of Tanzania, Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda as of August 2019.
Over past two years, refugee agency has facilitated repatriation of 74,600 refugees to their homes in Burundi.