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By Lisa Schlein
27 December 2008
The Tanzanian government has closed the Nduta camp for Burundian refugees in northwestern Tanzania. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says the camp was closed earlier this week after it relocated the remaining 10,000 refugees from Nduta to Mtabila camp.
|A refugee Burundian woman peers out of the window of her bus at the Mtabila camp in western Tanzania (File)|
The Nduta camp closer was a significant moment for Burundi refugees. Now only the Mtabila camp in Tanzania will host the thousands of Burundians who fled their homeland during the violence of the 1990s.
At that time, hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled civil war in their country. Only 46,450 Burundians from that wave of refugees remain in Tanzania.
U.N. refugee agency spokesman Ron Redmond says Tanzania has been an extremely generous host. For almost four decades, he notes, Tanzania has sheltered hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees who fled ethnic tensions and armed conflict.
He says the first big exodus occurred in the early 1970s followed by a second big influx in the 1990s. He says in 2000, Burundians were one of the largest refugee populations in the world, second only to Afghan refugees.
"So, we are preparing now to scale down quite dramatically there because there have been hundreds of thousands of returnees going back over the years - 63,000 alone this year," said Redmond. "And, also the Tanzanian government has agreed to locally integrate many of the Burundians who remain in the country. So, solutions are being found."
In 2002, the UN refugee agency began the voluntary repatriation of Burundians who fled their country in the 1990s. In addition, thousands returned unassisted. The UNHCR calls it one of the most successful operations on the African continent.
It estimates more than 470,000 Burundians have returned home from Tanzania and other asylum countries over the past six years.
Redmond says Tanzania is one of the few countries in the world that has offered durable solutions to refugees who cannot, or do not wish, to return home.
He says some refugees have lived in exile for decades and feel more at home in Tanzania than in Burundi. Many were born in Tanzania and have never been to Burundi. And still others, he says, may have political reasons for not wanting to return to Burundi.
Redmond says Tanzania has offered local integration, including naturalization and citizenship to those refugees who wish to remain in the country. He says about 165,000 Burundian refugees applied for citizenship this year. He says these applications now are being processed.