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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Former Burundi refugees in Katavi long for full citizenship

21st May 2012

The 1972 internal conflict in Burundi drove hundreds of thousands of people out of the tiny east African nation. The majority of them, mostly Hutus fled into Tanzania.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR-Tanzania office), about 162,152 Newly Naturalized Tanzanians (NNTs) or former Burundi refugees plus pending 16,000 newborns continue living in three designated settlements in the northwestern part of the country, known as the “Old Settlements”, Ulyankulu settlement in Tabora region, Katumba and Mishamo settlements in the new region of Katavi.

The government of Tanzania expressed a desire to seek a permanent solution for the 1972 Burundian refugees situation and close the three old settlements. Following, a census, individual registration and socio-economic study were carried out, forming the base of the Tanzania Comprehensive Solution Strategy (TANCOSS).

The strategy combined three different approaches, to find permanent solutions for the 218,000 individuals in the settlement; these included voluntary repatriation, legal naturalization, and local integration.

Its adoption was recommended during the Tripartite Commission in December 2007 by the government of Tanzania and Burundi together with UNHCR.

As a result, some 53,626 Burundians voluntarily returned to their homeland between 2008 and 2010. The second approach commenced in March 2008 which involved applications for naturalization, with 162,152 individuals naturalized to date.

In June 2010, the government went further and launched the last approach of local integration with the announcement of the National Strategy for Community Integration Programme (NaSCIP), spelling out the modalities for the relocation and integration of the new citizens to 16 selected receiving regions and 52 districts across the country.

The exercise has been led by the Prime Minister’s Office Regional Administration and Local Government Authority with support from UNHCR and other UN agencies.

To speed up the third approach, UNHCR divided 16 selected receiving regions into four zones and established logistical centres to smoothen the integration exercise. However, the centres were shut down in 2011 after the government pending further review of implementation modalities suspended these integration plans.

As the host region, Katavi, where the two settlements of Katumba and Mishamo are located, they host about 115,138 NNTs, excluding pending cases (newborns).

The regional commissioner, Dr. Rajab Rutengwe, has categorically rejected any suggestion that will allow the NNTs to be granted living as the citizens within the two old settlements citing security concern.

“It’s not proper and safe for our nation, according to their status (NNTs), they won’t be good to stay there, I don’t want to see a new Burundi in my region,” cautioned Dr. Rutengwe

Shaibu Adam, a villager at Isenga, one of the two streets where Tanzanians nationals live within Mishamo settlement, says, “I don’t want these NNTs to be granted citizenship, because they won’t be good for us.”

They are hard workers, they have contributed a lot in terms of food security, they are good farmers, both in cash crops and food stuff, but they should move from here to settle else where in the country, says another Tanzanian in the village, Jumanne Kiseko, a Tobacco grower.

The NNTs at Mishamo settlement are major producers of Tobacco and through their Association of Mishamo Tobacco Growers Company Limited (AMTG-Limited) they are expected to produce more than 8 million kilograms of tobacco in the year 2011/2012.

According to the Chairman AMTG-Limited, Oscar Jacob Ndimubansi, in 2010/2011, they produced 1.1 million kilograms of Tobacco making more than USD 1.6 million.

“From this income, we have contributed 5 per cent to the district council’s revenue through tax,” says Ndimubansi.

Mishamo settlement, which was established in 1978, is about 2,050 square kilometers with a total number of 16 villages, 17 primary schools, one secondary school, one dispensary and several health centres. This, is the largest of all three settlements and is bigger than Dar es Salaam city which covers the area of about 1,350 square kilomitres. So Mishamo it self could be a region due to the speeding birth rate among the NNTs.

Each family has an average of between 5 to 12 children, according to the Chairman of Rugufu village in Mishamo settlement, Manase Jacob popularly known as Ngai. He fled Burundi and entered into Tanzania in 1972 at the age of 19.

One of the major concern of the NNTs, is the delay in the issuing of citizenship certificates. “We are not free like our fellow Tanzanians, we would like to participate fully in social and economic issues like our fellow Tanzanians,” says Ngai

The charming former Burundi refugee, Ngai says, getting citizenship would allow him to vote and to vie for political posts. He is sure to win if he vies for any political post.

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