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Burundian Refugees in Tanzania: The Key Factor to the Burundi Peace Process

There has been a considerable Burundian refugee population, almost entirely Hutu, in countries neighbouring Burundi, and especially Tanzania, since the 1972 mass slaughter of Hutus when 300,000 are reported to have fled. Several smaller periodic outflows of refugees, in 1965, 1969, 1988 and 1991, augmented the 1972 caseload numbers. Though roughly 40,000 refugees repatriated to Burundi in anticipation of the 1993 elections, nearly 240,000 stayed behind. There was another mass exodus of over 400,000 Hutu refugees following the October 1993 crisis. While a large number of refugees subsequently returned, a steady outflow of refugees predominantly from the south continues up to the present day. The refugees are now about 470 000 in Tanzania, which represent more than 7 % of the Burundi population.

Since June 1998, the parties to the Burundi conflict have started peace talks in Arusha under the auspices of former Tanzanian President Julius K. Nyerere. One of the negotiating committees in the talks, Committee IV on Reconstruction and Development, was specifically tasked to find a solution to the refugee plight and allow them to return safely to Burundi and to be restored in their citizen rights. Both the Facilitator, the late Julius Nyerere, and the chair of the Committee IV have visited the camps and supported their participation in the talks. Following those visits, a delegation from the camps attended the June session of the talks.

Prospects for a solution to the plight of the refugees are closely linked to a political settlement in Burundi and now the resolution of the 1998-99 DRC war. The Burundian refugee camps in Tanzania are stigmatised for being highly militarised and for harbouring rebel movements, including CNDD, Palipehutu, and Frolina . This accusation is partly a result of a well waged propaganda campaign by the Buyoya government in Burundi, which claims that Tanzania is not a neutral host for the Arusha peace process; partly a result of Tanzania’s own duplicitous policies - Burundi has, since last year, become more insecure with a series of attacks partly staged from Tanzania unleashing new rounds of violence in Southern Burundi between the army and the rebel groups and new influxes of population into Tanzania; and partly a result of the humanitarian community’s own chequered past in the region, particularly its experience of the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire between 1994 and 1996, which included perpetrators of the genocide.

Refugees themselves are also exposed to a situation of high tension and insecurity at the border between the two countries and as a result of the cross-lake military activity due to the Congo war. The FDD rebels have been fighting on Kabila’s side since the war broke out in August 1998. With the Agreement for a Cease-fire in the DRC - which includes a commitment to disarm armed groups, including the Burundian rebels, it is feared that a lot of the rebels have returned to Tanzania from the DRC.


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