3 The operational context
This chapter includes a short analytical overview of the operational context. The historical setting is paramount in explaining the particular solutions offered to the 1972 group of refugees. The chapter also gives a brief overview of Tanzania’s refugee policies and asylum climate.
3.1 Tanzania – host to a large number of Burundian refugees
Tanzania’s proximity to refugee generating countries has made the country highly susceptible to large influxes of refugees and since the 1960s large refugee populations have been hosted. The refugees have mainly come from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Burundians have over time been the largest number of refugees in Tanzania. It was common practice to cross the border and settle in villages and designated settlements in Tanzania without going through formalised asylum procedures and therefore without receiving documents confirming their status. This was also the case with the 160,000 Burundians who arrived in Tanzania in 1972.
A second wave of refugees arrived in the early and mid nineties. They constituted the large influxes of refugees following the unprecedented civil strife and killings, which took place in Burundi in 1992/93 and in Rwanda a year later.
3.2 Tanzania’s reception and approach to the 1972 Burundian refugees
The conflict that started the displacement in Burundi in 1972 escalated because an ethnic Hutu organization attacked ethnic Tutsi with the declared intent of annihilating the whole group. This genocide against the Tutsi was responded to by large-scale reprisals by the Government (Tutsi dominated). The total number of casualties was never established, but estimates for both the Tutsi genocide and the reprisals on the Hutus are said to exceed 100,000.
The majority of the Burundians were settled in planned villages in Ulyankulu in Tabora Region and in Katumba and Mishamo in Rukwa Region (often called the “Old Settlements”). Some (today they are counted at 24,000) were given permits to reside in villages in Kigoma Region. In the three settlements each family was allocated about five and some up to ten hectares of land. Initially the refugees received financial assistance from UNHCR and with the assistance of the international community, core infrastructure such as roads, water points, school buildings, dispensaries and administrative centres were established. By 1985, the 1972 Burundian refugees had become agriculturally independent and were returning significant taxes to the host districts, which in turn continued to provide basic services such as health care and education. The settlements were placed under full government administration in 1985 and material assistance by UNHCR and its partners was terminated. There have been restrictions of movement outside the settlement throughout, and higher education was almost impossible to access until about 1990. However, overall the situation was one of acceptance and peaceful living within the regions of settlement.
Researchers see the political context and the Government’s openness combined with the features of permanence, such as access to land and the education system, which were arranged soon after their arrival, as key factors leading to Tanzania offering the group naturalisation. Milner notes that Tanzania’s village settlement (“ujamaa”) policies were announced in 1973, more or less the same time as the arrival of the Burundian refugees, and the cordial reception granted to the refugees was part of this political philosophy. Milner also quotes other research, which has found that the Government’s response included an element of a strategy to develop agriculture and human settlement in remote areas. The Government encouraged the production of cash crops, such as coffee and tobacco and in this way the arrival of the Burundians, known as skilled agriculturalists, was a blessing. The refugee settlements were also “expected” to attract development funding for the infrastructure and services to these remote areas. Right from the start the children of the settlement followed the Tanzanian school curriculum, and Swahili was thereby introduced as the main language. This also spurred integration.
Zarjevski (quoted by Milner) finds that: “From the start, the settlement of refugees in Tanzania was guided by the concepts of permanence and productivity, stemming, no doubt, from the principles on which Julius Nyerere hoped to develop his country”. Rutinwa, in a broader perspective, explains how “in the early years of Independence, the Government took a relatively laissez-faire approach to the presence in the country of aliens from neighbouring countries”. Host communities, headmen in the Katumba settlement, and UNHCR field staff in Mpanda informed the Evaluation that ethnic affiliation, (“we are like cousins” as remarked by a headman), as well as the understanding of each other’s mother tongue had been important factors promoting acceptance and integration in the local areas.
Figure 3.1 Economic contribution – 35 years later
3.3 The 1993 Burundian refugees
In 1993, due to ethnic conflicts in Burundi, another major influx of refugees (about 340,000) arrived in Tanzania. Burundians have over time been the largest number of refugees in Tanzania.
From 2000 onwards, with the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, peace and stability started to return to Burundi. In 2002 an organized repatriation programme started for this group, who by then had lived in camps for about ten years. Today, about 35,000 remain in Mtabila camp in Kasulu District. Although the camp was officially closed in June 2009, it continues to operate because of the refugees refusing voluntary resettlement. All formal education facilities in the camp have been closed down, but since June 2010 an agreement with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) to carry out non-formal education activities has been in place. The school closures have spurred social problems and subsequent questions of whether the situation adheres to human rights standards.
3.4 Refugee policy periods from independence to the present
Researchers find that Tanzanian refugee policies generally fall into three distinct periods from Independence to the present. The first period was from 1962 to 1985, when the refugee policies were integral to the pan-African policies under President Nyerere. During this period the policy towards refugees and the asylum climate was open and welcoming. The second period came in 1985 with the economic disarray and the end of President Nyerere’s presidency. This policy period lasted a decade. When President Mwinyi started his term as President in 1985, he embarked on the Economic Recovery Programme, which was associated with a number of hard felt measures aimed at reducing public spending. Scarcity of resources is said to be one important factor leading to more restrictive refugee policies. The public position in Tanzania became less open towards refugees and internationally Tanzanian ministers also requested a greater burden sharing. Milner refers to Amnesty International reporting in 1990, which talks about ’the hardening of attitudes towards refugees from Burundi”. Such was the political situation, which met almost one million refugees who came to Tanzania in the early 1990s, at the time of the Great Lakes crisis and the enormous displacements in the region.
This influx resulted in a further change in asylum climate and refugee policies in 1995, which marks the start of the third period of refugee policies. The first signal of the third period came when the Government closed its border with Burundi. In 1996 it was announced that all Rwandan refugees should leave the country by the end of that year. Milner explains the change in Tanzanian policy in 1995-96 with the magnitude of the influx, but he also sees the changed environment as a consequence of the introduction of multi-partyism. With this came a change in political culture and a focus on internal security as a result of the large number of refugees, coupled with lack of international support to deal with the problem. In 1996, a new Government was sworn in, and with President Mkapa coming to office the anti-refugee rhetoric became common in the public domain. The Government’s foreign policy emphasised good relations with all neighbouring countries irrespective of the nature of their policies and behaviour towards citizens.
By 1997 Tanzania was hosting 570,000 refugees, this number included the 1972 Burundians as well as a large group of Burundians who had arrived in 1993. Human Rights Watch noted, according to Milner, that refugees were considered a security threat and they were rounded up and told to remain in the settlements and in the camps. In 1998, Tanzania passed restrictive refugee legislation. A tough approach was taken especially towards Burundians and the Tanzania military issued an order that all Burundians including those who had arrived in 1972 should be moved to camps. This was not implemented, but Tanzania increasingly pressed for repatriation of the refugees. UNHCR did not immediately agree to repatriation, because of unrest and insecurity in some parts of Burundi but eventually recommended voluntary repatriation.
In 2003 Tanzania issued a National Refugee Policy, which restricted movements for refugees in camps and limited economic activity. This increased the hardships for refugees, who then had limited livelihood possibilities. In the last five years the Government has pushed for the implementation of Tanzania as a refugee free zone. Since 2002, a total of 363,000 Burundians from the camps were repatriated with UNHCR assistance. In addition UNHCR repatriated 53,000 refugees from the Old Settlements (in 2008 and 2009). Nevertheless, the statistics in Table 3.1 show that Burundians also today, both camped and naturalised, constitute a large share of ’persons of concern’ for UNHCR.
Table 3.1 Persons of concern to UNHCR in Tanzania in 2010
||Dem. Rep. of the Congo
|Dem. Rep. of the Congo
|Others of concern
||Naturalised Burundian refugees (NNTs)
Source: UNHCR Fact Sheet, Tanzania.
Efforts to promote regional cooperation in seeking durable solutions are increasingly coming into focus. In March 2010, UNHCR and the East African Community (EAC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the aim of establishing an operational framework to protect “forcibly displaced people” and promote coordination around the regulatory regimes affecting inter alia the movement of persons, immigration and refugee management, work permits and visas. There is a five-year regionalisation scheme of freedom of movement in the EAC, and the Memorandum of Understanding should be seen in light of the general efforts to ease movement across the borders among the EAC member countries in areas such as visa free zones, residence and work. It was suggested in an interview that the deployment of a UNHCR member of staff at the EAC Secretariat in Arusha could be instrumental in placing emphasis on protection issues and building capacity in this respect at the EAC, thereby implementing the Memorandum of Understanding. It appears (from interviews) that the role of the EAC and therefore the regional perspective towards refugee policies and asylum climate is playing an increasing role in Tanzania.
3.5 Conclusions on the operational context
A historical setting of village settlement policies, available land and pan-African views of the Nyerere government gave the 1972 group of Burundian refugees an opportunity to reestablish their rural livelihoods and live in a non-camp environment, so that they emerged as a resource rather than a burden to Tanzania. The 1993 group of refugees has followed the more traditional restrictive conditions for refugees applied globally. They came in the early 1990s, when the Great Lakes region was the scene of multiple conflicts with large numbers of refugees from several countries entering into Tanzania.
Researchers find that Tanzanian refugee policies generally fall into three distinct periods from Independence to the present. In the first period, from 1962 to 1985, the refugee policies were integral to the Pan-African policies spearheaded by President Nyerere. The second period came with the economic disarray and the end of Nyerere’s presidency in 1985 and runs until 1995. Scarcity of resources is said to be one important factor leading to more restrictive refugee policies. This was the political situation, which met almost one million refugees, who came to Tanzania in the early 1990s. The third period started in 1996, when the Government closed its border with Burundi and also announced that all Rwandan refugees should leave the country by the end of that year. As a result the number of refugees in Tanzania dropped considerably.
In 1998, Tanzania passed restrictive refugee legislation and increasingly pressed for repatriation of the refugees. In 2003 Tanzania issued a National Refugee Policy, which restricted movements of refugees in camps and limited economic activity. In the last five years the Government has pushed for the implementation of the country as a refugee free zone.
 Rutinwa, Bonaventure: Addressing Irregular Settlement in North Western Tanzania: A legal and Protection Perspective. International Migration management Project Working Paper No 1. March 2010. p 28.
 Three main sources have been used in this section: Rutinwa, (March 2010); Milner, James: Refugees, the State and the Politics of Asylum in Africa – Chapter 6 on Tanzania, Palgrave Macmillan Press, December 2009.
Milner (2009) and Sundar, Chaulia Sreeram: The politics of Refugee Hosting in Tanzania: From Open Door to Unsustainability, Insecurity and Receding Receptivity. Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol 16, No 2, 2003. Sundar’s work has particularly informed the earlier periods described in this section.
 UNHCR Fact Sheets.
 Interviews with host communities, UNHCR staff, and MoHA.
 Milner (2009), p 110.
 Rutinwa (March 2010), p 5 and 11.
 Milner (2009) p 115.
 Ibid p 116.
 Ibid p 118.
 Ibid p 121.
 Joint press release UNHCR, EAC, Dar es Salaam, 9th March 2010.
 Interview with senior UNHCR official.
 See for example press from Amnesty International 29th June 2009. http://www.Amnesty.org
This page forms part of the publication 'Evaluation of the protracted refugee situation (PRS) for Burundians in Tanzania' as chapter 5 of 15
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