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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Govt backtracks as ex-refugees await citizenship papers

19th May 2012

Mishamo residents who are ex-Burundi refugees and now newly naturalized Tanzanians are optimistic that the government will soon fulfill its promise to issue them with citizenship certificates but urged a speeding of the process to end uncertainty.

Speaking to The Guardian in separate interviews at Mishamo settlement this week, the new citizens expressed concern over the slow process, making their other plans incapable of moving forward.

“I can’t build a good house here, because I don’t know if I will be asked to leave the place,” said, Ndimubansi Oscar Jacob, who fled Burundi at the age of 12 and arrived at the then Ulyankulu refugee camp in Tabora region in 1972, and then  shifted to Mishamo settlement in 1978.

The government has already granted permission to 162,152 former Burundian refugees to apply for citizenship, but promised to issue the certificates on arrival at the selected receiving regions.
However in August 2011 the government, pending further review of implementation modalities, suspended the plans, UNHCR officials told The Guardian.

When asked about the fast- tracking of issuing citizenship certificates to the former Burundian refugees at Mishamo settlement in Katavi region, Regional Commissioner Dr. Rajab Rutengwe shared the same feelings, but explained the delay as arising from security reasons.

Reports say the government is looking for other options instead of issuing citizenship certificates. “I have heard that instead of giving them citizenship certificates, they will be given permanent residence certificates,” said Dr. Rutengwe. 

“It’s not proper and safe for them to continue staying here on the basis of being refugees. They won’t be good for the security of our nation,” he said, elaborating that responsible authorities need to finalize the process, so that those people can  integrate with other Tanzanians away from refugee camps.

The government had earlier warned that any refugee who does not yet have permanent residence status will not be allowed to leave and settle anywhere in the country. “I have directed all district commissioners in my region to make a random search in their locations to see if any refugee has settled in their respective areas, because they are still holding refugee status,  the RC intoned.

Acting settlement commander at Mishamo, Marieta Malya said that the newly naturalized person is required to obtain permission when he/she want to go outside the settlement premises for any social needs.

“We have been granted the citizenship status, but there are still plenty of confusions about our current status and benefits,” said 62 year old Mussa Nguru Toi, who entered the country in 1973.

He expressed gratitude at the government for receiving the refugees when they were facing serious danger and treated them kindly to us, despite that they have occasionally been marginalized.

“The word ‘refugee’ written on a leave permit makes me feel very embarrassed,” said another naturalized person, Pedrick Bichumusa, chairman of Ipwaga village in the settlement.

The new citizens believe that once they get citizenship certificates they will be free like any other Tanzanian as the constitution of the United Republic provides in relation to rights of citizens. “I can’t vote, because I am not recognized as Tanzanian, so I will be very happy to get citizenship certificate to get those rights,” said another naturalized ex-refugee, Manase Jacob, popularly known as Ngai.

In this process, the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), will assist towards the relocation and integration of newly naturalized persons as well as around 16,000 recently born children for whom naturalization is pending.

Mishamo settlement is home for about 61,000 ex-Burundian refugees and it’s the largest settlement, aside from two others.  The 1972Hutu massacres in Burundi drove hundreds of thousands of people out of the tiny East African nation as most of those who crossed the border fled to Tanzania.

UNHCR statistics indicate that about 220,000 Burundians continue living in three designated settlements in northwest of the country, known as old settlements, namely Ulyankulu in Tabora region, along with Katumba and Mishamo are in the newly set up Katavi region.

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