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Tanzania naturalizes first batch of Burundian refugees, reports UN

7 August 2009 – After living in Tanzania for over three decades, thousands of Burundian refugees have been granted citizenship by the host Government, in the first large-scale naturalization of its kind in Africa, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

This week, 3,568 out of over 160,000 Burundian refugees were granted citizenship, a decision marking “a major milestone in a programme that will bring to a close one of the world’s most protracted refugee situations,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

Early last year, some 218,000 Burundians who fled violence in their country in 1972 were given the choice by Tanzanian authorities to either return home or to apply for citizenship.

At the peak of the crisis in Burundi in the 1990s, almost half a million people escaped clashes, sheltering in camps along the Tanzanian border. The peace process in Burundi has paved the way for the return of one of the continent’s longest-staying refugee populations, with over 400,000 Burundians having returned from Tanzania since 2004.

UNHCR advocated on behalf of the refugees with both the Burundian and Tanzanian Governments, helping them make their decisions on whether to return or stay.

Ultimately, 162,000 refugees opted to apply for citizenship, with the first batch of applicants naturalized on 4 August. Tanzania has reaffirmed its commitment to wrapping up the process by the end of this year, Mr. Mahecic said.

Meanwhile, 45,000 Burundians who decided to return home have already reached Burundi with assistance from UNHCR, with an additional 9,000 refugees set to return in the coming months.

“UNHCR will continue to support the Tanzanian Government in the transition phases of the integration of the newly naturalized” through such community projects as road rehabilitation, school construction and repair, and improvement of health services, the agency’s spokesperson said.

The entire repatriation scheme is funded through UNHCR’s $28 million Supplementary Appeal for 2008-2009, launched last February, which is facing an $8 million funding gap.


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