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Migration watch: East Africa

Posted on Monday, 21 September 2009 00:00

Granting rights to long-term refugees

The long-term housing of refugee populations has always proved

problematic. Now, the Tanzanian government has tried something new which brings

the hope of easing tensions between refugees living long-term in camps and local

residents living nearby. On 4 August, the government granted citizenship to the

first group of more than 3,500 Burundian refugees who are among the more than

162,000 Burundians who arrived in Tanzania after fleeing ethnic violence there

in the early 1970s.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) lauded the

action. Spokesman Andrej Mahecic said: “The decision marks a major milestone in

a programme that will bring to a close one of the world’s most protracted

refugee situations… It also represents the first time that any country in

Africa has naturalised refugees on such a scale.” Last year, the government gave

the refugees a choice to return home or to apply for citizenship. The UNHCR saw

this as an opportunity not to be missed. UNHCR advocated on behalf of the

refugees with both governments, and offered to provide assistance to those who

decided to return home and to those who opted to stay.

In addition to

Burundian, Congolese and Rwandan refugees and economic migrants, Tanzania has

also seen a rise in Kenyans seeking jobs. Most Kenyans are employed in services,

private schools, media and banks. While the government has generally welcomed

immigrants, new residents are not as easily accepted by locals. In its insular

times under ‘African socialism’ between the 1960s and 1980s, Tanzania was never

a major magnet for migrants. But the country’s stability and its recent burst of

economic growth have meant more outsiders are looking for opportunities. It

seems the adjustment process will not be without its problems.

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