The Burundi government on Tuesday said that a first group of its refugees in Tanzania would return home on Thursday, as part of a mass repatriation agreement signed by the two governments, reported Reuters.
Nestor Bimenyimana, the Burundi government’s general manager for repatriation, said, the first group includes about 1,000 refugees. He said the process was “voluntary.”
In August, Burundi and Tanzania agreed that repatriations of 200,000 Burundi refugees in Tanzania would start on October 1. The agreement sparked fears of forced returns among some of those who crossed the border to escape violence.
Hundreds of Burundians have been killed in clashes with security forces since 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third, disputed term in office. During the same period, over 400,000 have fled abroad, predominantly to Tanzania, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The UN Refugee Agency has urged Tanzania’s government not to forcibly deport Burundian political refugees to their home country, where it says their lives would be at risk. The UNHCR, Tanzania and Burundi signed a tripartite agreement in March 2018 to facilitate the voluntary return of refugees to Burundi.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said the agency hopes Tanzania and Burundi will live up to the agreement and not push refugees who fled persecution. The deal covers refugees who wish to return on a voluntary basis. Baloch says the UNHCR hopes both countries live up to this agreement and ensure that all returns are voluntary and safe.
“Many refugees and asylum-seekers who have even recently arrived in Tanzania have cited persecution and fear of human rights abuses as the reason for their entry into Tanzania,” Baloch said. “So, we hope that Tanzania … will not put refugee lives at risk by putting pressure on them to return back home.”
In the last two years, more than 74,000 refugees have returned to Burundi reportedly because of bad conditions in the camps and pressure from the Tanzanian government.