So far, nearly 80,000 refugees have voluntarily returned to Burundi since the exercise commenced in September 2017. The programme is implemented jointly by the two governments and UNHCR.
The UNHCR assistant High Commissioner-Operations George Okoth Obbo made the assurance on Monday here when he visited Burundian refugee camps of Nduta and Mtendeli in Kigoma region.
Obbo was in the country for six-day trip to attend the tripartite meeting in Dar es Salaam with the Burundi and Tanzania governments, visit the refugee camps and to meet with government of Tanzania officials to convey UNHCR’S gratitude for their longstanding generosity towards those fleeing conflict and persecution.
According to him, the International Refugee Law underlines voluntariness when it comes to repatriating refugees as well as maintaining safety and dignity in their countries of origin.
“UNHCR commends the government for its continued support to host the refugees and asylum seekers, we will continue to strengthen our relationship with the government to ensure that the needy stay safe and enjoy their rights,” he said.
He further appealed for the international community to continue strongly supporting the refugee programme in Tanzania.
“In Tanzania, we need USD 126 million. Our funding available is just one third of that. We are really grateful for all the support to date but much more is needed and I thus strongly appeal for continuous support in this respect,” Obbo added.
Meanwhile, director for refugee services in the Home Affairs Ministry Sudi Mwakibasi said that the government maintains voluntariness in refugee repatriation exercise and no one will be forced to go back home.
He also said that the Tanzanian government will continue to keep its doors open to genuine and credible asylum seekers and refugees in need of international protection and asylum where he commended UNHCR and the international community for its continued support.
“We have always been praying for Burundi's peace and whenever any Burundian would wish to go back home voluntarily, we are here to support,” he said.
Mwakibasi also directed refugee camp commandants to ensure that all refugees and asylum seekers are well protected including serving women and children from any type of violence.
“I want all women and girls to stay safe from violence, camp commandants have to probe and fight GBV actions within the areas,” he said.
In 31 August 2017 the Tripartite Commission (United Republic of Tanzania, Republic of Burundi, and UNHCR) issued a joint communiqué and agreed to implement a work plan from September 7, to 31 December 2017, which entails the voluntary repatriation plan of Burundian refugees who wish to return to Burundi.
On 28 March 2018, a follow up Tripartite Commission Meeting was held in Bujumbura, Burundi. While UNHCR continued to maintain that it will assist and not promote voluntary returns to Burundi due to the unresolved political situation, both governments reaffirmed their commitment to promoting return and upholding the principle of voluntariness.
During his official visit in Tanzania early this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi emphasized that refugees should never be pressured to decide if they should return to their home countries.
According to him, refugees need to have a meaningful choice about whether they wish to return based on the facts and realities on the ground. There should not be any direct or indirect pressure exercised on refugees to choose whether to return.
Tanzania hosts more than 278,000 refugees and other persons of concern in three refugee camps in the Kigoma Region.
About 74 percent of the refugees are from Burundi and 26 percent are from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries.