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July 1999
 Vol 11. No. 4


Forced Round-Ups of Refugees in Tanzania


To the Tanzanian Government:
To the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):
To the United Nations Development Program (UNDP):
To Donor Governments:

The Old Caseload Burundian Refugees
Growing Hostility Against Refugees
The 1998 Refugees Act


Violations of Constitutional and International Law
Discrimination on the Basis of Nationality
Abusive Treatment
Lack of Due Process Protections
Separation of Families
Mixed Marriages: Tanzanian Citizens Living in Refugee Camps
Loss of Property
Confinement in the Refugee Camps
The Response of UNHCR





I fled Burundi in 1972 and came to Tanzania. I have lived in Rusaba B settlement in Tanzania since that time with no problems. My seven children were born in Tanzania. We get along with our neighbors. We contribute to the community. We helped to build the schools. We have given money for community development. We are thankful to the Tanzanians for giving us land and a life. I was able to cultivate the land and even produce oil for selling. I never thought that the Tanzanian government would do this to us. At about 8:00 a.m. on November 25, 1997, I saw an army vehicle. They were rounding up people and ordering them to hurry up, collect their things and get into the lorry. I was at home with one child. My other children had already gone to farm. I was too scared to disobey. I tried to tell the army people that I needed to find my children, but they said, "You go, your children will follow." I got into the vehicle and was taken to Manyovu. I was crying because I did not know what would happen to my children. A hospital nurse was at Manyovu and she calmed me down. For two days, I had no contact with my children. Finally I was able to send a message to them. I am now held in the refugee camp, but my children are still outside. I would like them to come, but they have sent me a message that they have no money to come here. I am not allowed to leave the camp to find my children.1

This Burundian woman is one of the tens of thousands of refugees rounded up by the Tanzanian army, separated from her family and stripped of her belongings before being confined to the refugee camps in western Tanzania. These refugees are caught up in the spill-over consequences of conflict in the Great Lakes region and are the unfortunate victims of the Tanzanian government's indiscriminate response to insecurity on its country's borders. While national and border security issues are clearly a priority for any government, Human Rights Watch believes that long-term security interests are best served through the implementation of mechanisms that uphold the rule of law. Ultimately, abusing the human rights of refugees and indiscriminately criminalizing all refugees without due process or individual accountability does not provide for the most effective or sustainable security policy. The blanket presumption that all refugees pose a security threat and can therefore be indiscriminately rounded up and confined in camps appears to be more a part of the pattern of deteriorating respect for refugee rights in Tanzania rather than a legitimate response to a valid security concern.

Tanzania has historically been one of the more welcoming refugee hosts worldwide. It has provided safety and refuge to thousands of African refugees for many decades, going as far as to offer land for settlement, integration, and even citizenship at times. Despite the heavy burden of hosting such large populations, Tanzania, to its credit, has continued to provide a haven to some 345,000 refugees fleeing largely from the intractable conflicts in neighboring Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. However, the influx of refugees since 1994-and the attendant crime and insecurity caused by militants among the refugees, economic strain, and environmental degradation-have resulted in a growing hostility towards refugees in Tanzania. Unfortunately, some of the policies being adopted by Tanzania are undermining refugee protection in violation of international law, and reversing the long and generous asylum tradition that Tanzania has been so well-respected for.

In late 1997, the Tanzanian government ordered the army to round up all foreigners living outside refugee camps, asserting that this was necessary to protect Tanzanian citizens living close to the border with Burundi. The Burundian government had alleged that Burundian rebels were engaged in arms trafficking and cross-border incursions and had threatened to act if the Tanzanian government did not. With little or no notice, the Tanzanian army swept through towns and villages close to the Burundian and Rwandan borders apprehending tens of thousands of foreigners. These refugees and migrants were given the "choice" of being forced back to their country of origin or relocated to the refugee camps. Although Congolese and Rwandans were also affected, the bulk of the refugees and migrants rounded up were Burundian, including a large number of "old caseload" Burundian refugees who wereuprooted after having lived peacefully on settlements allocated to them by the Tanzanian government as far back as the 1970s.

Human Rights Watch interviewed approximately 200 Burundians subjected to the round-ups. This report deals only with the experience of Burundian refugees, although refugees of other nationalities were subjected to the same ordeal. Moreover, this report concentrates particularly on the old caseload Burundians who have been more detrimentally affected due to their unique longstanding history in Tanzania, rather than post-1993 refugees who were placed in the refugee camps upon arrival.

Without exception, the refugees interviewed spoke of the hasty, and sometimes rough, treatment experienced at the hands of the Tanzanian army and local militia groups, sungu sungus, who seized them from their homes and farms with no opportunity to locate all their family members or pack their belongings. Army and militia men often demanded money from refugees, and in some places refugee homes were looted by Tanzanians. Refugees were often ordered to walk miles-many with young children-to a transit center. Those who walked too slowly risked being hit with batons by army escorts. When the army did use vehicles to transport some, it often demanded that the refugees pay for the petrol costs. Many of the refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch were separated from their husbands, wives, or children during and after the round-ups. In several cases, Human Rights Watch interviewed Tanzanian women, married to Burundian men, who were living in the refugee camps because they did not want to be separated from their families. Following a cursory screening by the Tanzanian authorities that fell far short of due process guarantees, thousands of refugees were taken forcibly to the refugee camps administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Many of the old caseload refugees who had built homes, farms, and livelihoods in the government-provided settlements spoke with regret about their destroyed communities, empty, looted homes, and ruined crops. Others spoke of the fear and anxiety that plague them, believing that if the Tanzanian government could change its treatment of them so abruptly it could as easily return them to face violence or even death in Burundi. Others spoke with anger and frustration about the unfair manner in which they have been treated as criminals without an opportunity to defend themselves.

After the round-ups, refugees were strictly confined to the camps, denied even the standard temporary permission that is routinely granted to other refugees to visit family members or the nearby market. Over time, however, the authorities in the area have relented somewhat, and many of the refugees have left the camps to locate family members or have returned to their homes. However, this latter group continues to live with the uncertainty and fear that they could be subjected once again to the arbitrary mistreatment that was meted out to them during the round-ups. Furthermore, those who have returned home have found their personal belongings gone, their schools and other community institutions closed, and relations with their Tanzanian neighbors fraught with distrust.

The Tanzanian government has legitimate security concerns. The conflicts in neighboring Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo can, and have, spilled over in the region. The reports of cross-border militant activity, recruitment and training of refugees by rebel groups, intimidation, extortion of food or money from refugees and local residents by militants, and weapons flows through Tanzania are serious national security concerns that the Tanzanian government must address. Along the border area, crime and banditry have increased in the past few years. Furthermore, it is likely that conditions within Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are not likely to improve sufficiently for these refugees to return to their places of origin any time soon.

However, nationality-based round-ups, forced confinement in refugee camps, and the lack of due process rights are fundamentally inconsistent with the Tanzanian constitution as well as international and regional human rights and refugee law. Since these round-ups contravene several provisions of the Tanzanian constitution and international law, they cannot, as the government asserts, be considered legal actions under the Tanzanian 1995 Immigration Act and the 1995 Citizenship Act. Tanzania has the right to question foreign nationals who have not followed the requisite legal procedures for residence, but, not through mass round-ups. The Tanzanian government policy of confining allrefugees on the grounds that some may pose a security threat, denies refugees a fair opportunity to contest their confinement and places no limit on the period they may be held in this manner. Due process protections require that if the government suspects members of a group of being involved in criminal or rebel activity, that it should not take collective steps against the entire community but, rather should charge those individuals as warranted before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal. Yet, of the thousands confined to the Tanzanian refugee camps since the October 1997 round-ups, not one has been afforded the opportunity to contest the government's actions or to return to their home with assurances that they will not be uprooted in this manner again.

The Tanzanian government's rationale for conducting the refugee round-ups was security. Yet, the government has made no effort to investigate or enter charges against any individuals rounded up for this alleged rebel activity. Perhaps this is because there was no legitimate reason for suspecting all of the refugees of criminal activity. As our interviews show, many of those brought to the camps were the least likely of engaging in rebel activity: the aged, women, and children. According to some relief workers in the camps, the round-ups may actually be counterproductive to the promotion of security in Tanzania. Forcing Burundian refugees into the camps in this manner can only fuel resentment against the Tanzanian government; bolster the Burundian government's threats to invade by reinforcing the erroneous accusation that all Burundian refugees are rebels; push refugees to identify more closely with the Burundian political alliances in the camps because of the hostility they have experienced at the hands of the Tanzanian army; increase the likelihood of rebel recruitment among the old caseload refugees who have gone from being self-employed farmers to idle refugees situated in camps close to the border; and create distrust between the local population and refugees.

Expediency affords no defense for the abrogation of human rights, particularly when alternate means that do not criminalize and mistreat all refugees are available. The Tanzanian government's defense-that there was no time to conduct such inquiries-simply cannot withstand scrutiny. The Tanzanian government can take other steps to address security, such as increased police patrols and intelligence surveillance along the border or among communities with high numbers of Burundians, the relocation of settlements with Burundians further away from the border, and the investigation and prosecution of those Burundian individuals responsible for criminal activity. Each of these proposals would allow for a more sustainable and rights-respecting security policy over the long term. Human Rights Watch is fully aware of the financial and administrative burden that these alternate security measures would pose to Tanzania's already overburdened judicial and law enforcement branches. The international community bears some responsibility to ensure that the necessary financial support is available to implement security policies that promote international human rights and refugee standards.

Although Human Rights Watch believes that the policy of nationality-based round-ups and the forced confinement of refugees in camps should be reversed in all cases, we are particularly concerned that the old caseload Burundians have suffered the greatest injustice. For over twenty-five years, this group of long-time refugees has lived on settlements provided by the Tanzanian government. Since they arrived in Tanzania, they were given the expectation and relied on the government's policy of local integration. This group has been self-sufficient and productive, contributing positively to Tanzania's development in the form of taxes and other contributions-indications that the authorities accepted their presence as legitimate. Their integration was further encouraged by the Tanzanian government itself, which made several offers of citizenship to this group. While some refugees did become naturalized citizens, others did not take advantage of this generous offer either due to ignorance, cost, the lack of a need for identity papers, or even psychological questions of identity and the unwillingness to give up hope of going home. To summarily uproot this old caseload, the bulk of whom have lived a lifetime peacefully in Tanzanian communities, to strip them without compensation of their livelihoods and belongings acquired over the years, to separate their families, and to forcibly confine them to camps where they are dependent on food rations, is a particular injustice. Human Rights Watch believes that the specific history of this group warrants special consideration by the Tanzanian government to reverse its decision in the case of these refugees since the expectation of integration and assimilation given to them differs from the more recent refugee arrivals who have routinely been referred to the refugee camps. Human Rights Watch is also concerned that UNHCR remain a vigorous advocate on behalf of those rounded up, particular the old caseload.

This report documents the injustices suffered by the Burundian refugees rounded up, and calls on the Tanzanian government: (1) to cease its policy of forced round-ups; (2) to seek alternate means to address valid security concerns near the Burundian-Tanzanian border that do not violate Tanzanian and international human rights and refugee law; and (3) to restore the old caseload Burundians to their former status by returning them to their homes or to alternate and equivalent settlements farther away from the border. Human Rights Watch calls on UNHCR and the international community to play a more vigorous advocacy role in calling for the respect of refugee rights in the implementation of Tanzanian national security policy and for the reinstatement of the refugees who were rounded up, particularly the old caseload, to their homes or alternate and equivalent settlements. Funding and other support should be given by the international community to the Tanzanian government to strengthen its overburdened judicial and law enforcement capacity to deal with these issues in the border area.


To the Tanzanian Government:

· Do not use measures such as forced round-ups in order to address security concerns. Seek alternate means that comply with international law, such as increased police patrols along the border, the relocation of settlements or camps with Burundians farther away from the border, and the investigation and prosecution of those Burundian individuals responsible for criminal activity, such as arms trafficking or rebel training.

· Restore the old caseload refugees to their previous status and return them to their long-time settlements or to alternate and equivalent settlements farther away from the border. Local integration is one of the three durable solutions recommended by UNHCR for refugees.

· Grant permission to the refugees who were rounded up to leave the camps, particularly those who need to locate family members or to recover their property. At the least, refugees who were rounded up should be given the standard permits to temporarily leave the camp without discrimination in the same manner as other refugees.

· Property belonging to the refugees who were summarily rounded up should be restored to their refugee owners by the government. The government should instruct the local authorities to organize for the possessions of the rounded-up refugees to be returned to their owners. If property has been looted by the army, sungu sungu, or local residents, the authorities should organize to retrieve or compensate the refugees the market value of their destroyed or stolen property.

· The Tanzanian government should facilitate the process for the relatively small group of interested, eligible refugees to obtain their citizenship by making the process easily accessible to refugees in the camps. According to Section 10(1) of the Tanzanian Citizenship Act, any person with one Tanzanian parent is eligible for Tanzanian citizenship. Additionally, old caseload Burundian refugees are eligible to apply for Tanzanian citizenship. The government should consider making a one-time waiver of the citizenship fees to allow refugees who are unable to pay the fee to apply for citizenship.

· Amend the 1995 Citizenship Act to allow Tanzanian women to apply for citizenship on behalf of their foreign spouses, just as Tanzanian men are permitted to. The Citizenship Act discriminates on the basis of sex, contrary to the Tanzanian constitution and international law.

· Amend the 1995 Citizenship Act to allow second generation refugees who have been born and brought up in Tanzania to apply for Tanzanian citizenship. Under the current law, no refugees-even if they are born and brought up in Tanzania for generations-are ever eligible to apply for citizenship.

· Conduct public education and awareness programs on both refugee and community security issues in western Tanzania. If citizens and refugees are enlightened about their rights and responsibilities, it is more likely that they will cooperate with the authorities to uphold the rule of law.

To the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):

· As a protection priority, provide ongoing guidance and assistance to the Tanzanian government to ensure that measures adopted by the government to address security concerns comply with international human rights and refugee law.

· Vigorously advocate for the return of the rounded-up refugees to their homes and for refugees whose belongings have been destroyed or stolen by the army, sungu sungu, or local residents to be restored or compensated. In particular, UNHCR should actively maintain its call for the old caseload refugees to be assured residency rights and restored to their previously integrated status. UNHCR's mandate includes responsibility for seeking durable solutions for refugees, including local integration.

· Increase the number of UNHCR protection officers in the Tanzanian camps. The UNHCR Tanzania office does not have enough protection officers. Without a strong network of experienced and competent protection officers, regular monitoring and follow up work in such a refugee setting is difficult. As a result, UNHCR Tanzania has not played as consistent an advocacy role as it could have to assist eligible refugees to apply for citizenship, to reunite separated refugee families, or to press the Tanzanian government to reverse its policy on forced round-ups, particularly with regard to restoring the old caseload refugees to their settlements.

· Share security information more routinely and consistently among UNHCR country offices in the Great Lakes regions. Since the round-ups were ostensibly conducted in order to address security concerns, information on security in the border area is critical to refugee protection work. Greater information sharing between UNHCR offices in Burundi and Tanzania could assist UNHCR staff in Tanzania and the Tanzanian government in more effectively analyzing and addressing threats to border security and in maintaining the civilian nature of the refugee camps and the surrounding area to the extent possible.

· Assist those old caseload refugees who are eligible and interested in becoming naturalized Tanzanian citizens to file their applications. UNHCR should identify a local nongovernmental legal aid group that can serve as an implementing partner to assist refugees to fill and file the relevant citizenship forms and to follow up on their citizenship applications with the government.

· Issue birth certificates to refugee children born in Tanzania documenting place of birth and nationality. Some of these refugee children may later be eligible for citizenship or other residency rights.

· Create public education and awareness programs on both refugee and community security issues in western Tanzania. If citizens and refugees are enlightened about their rights and responsibilities, it is more likely that they will cooperate with the authorities to uphold the rule of law. Such programs should be aired on the local radio stations, including Radio Kwizira operated by Jesuit Refugee Service in the refugee camps.

To the United Nations Development Program (UNDP):

· Earmark some of the U.S.$1.1 million that UNDP has allocated to Tanzania for governance programs to strengthen judicial and law enforcement capacity to deal with refugee issues, including training in refugee and human rights law for police and judicial staff, and public education and awareness programs to prevent xenophobia.

To Donor Governments:

· Actively call on the Tanzanian government to adopt security policies that do not violate refugee rights.

· Call on UNHCR and the Tanzanian government to take steps to restore the old caseload refugees to their former status and to return them to their settlements or to alternate settlements further away from the border.

· Earmark funding to UNHCR for a local Tanzanian legal aid nongovernmental organization to work in the refugee camps and settlements to assist interested refugees eligible for Tanzanian citizenship to fill and file the relevant forms and pay the application fee.

· Provide funding, training and other logistic support to the Tanzanian government to enable them to adopt alternate security policies that comply with human rights and refugee law. The Tanzanian law enforcement and judicial systems are currently overburdened and underfunded. Greater international support for the judiciary and police is required, including, among other things, training in refugee and human rights law, and increased security patrols in the border area and within the refugee camps.
1 Human Rights Watch interview, refugee, Nduta camp, May 31, 1998.

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