A new report In the Name of Security: Forced Round-Ups of Refugees in Tanzania Human Rights Watch charges that the Tanzanian army separated the refugees from their families and stripped them of their belongings in an indiscriminate response to security risks from outside the country.
A new report from Human Rights Watch charges that the Tanzanian army separated the refugees from their families and stripped them of their belongings in an indiscriminate response to security risks from outside the country.
"Tanzania has a long and generous tradition of hospitality to refugees, but unfortunately, it hasn't been on display in this crisis," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "All of a sudden, people have been dragged from their homes and treated like criminals solely because they are refugees."
The report, "In the Name of Security," calls on the Tanzanian government to restore the long-standing refugees to their old settlements and to seek alternate means to address valid security concerns that don't violate national and international law.
The Tanzanian army conducted house-to-house sweeps largely in late 1997 and early 1998 on the grounds that this was necessary to protect Tanzanian citizens living near the Burundian border. The Burundian government had alleged that Burundian rebels based in Tanzania were engaged in arms trafficking and cross-border incursions. The Burundian government threatened to act if the Tanzanian government did not.
With little or no notice, the Tanzanian army swept through villages close to the Burundian and Rwandan borders, apprehending thousands of refugees from their homes and sending them to the refugee camps.
The Human Rights Watch report contains testimonies from Burundian refugees, many of whom had built homes, farms, and livelihoods in the government-provided settlements for over two decades, who spoke with regret about their destroyed communities, empty looted homes, and ruined crops. One refugee man who had lived in Tanzania since 1972 stated:
The army came and told us to pack what we could carry. They would only say, "All Burundians must go to the camps." . . . It took us five or six hours to reach Kibirizi where we found other people who had been rounded up as well as new refugee arrivals. . . I had been separated from my wife and children . . . I don't know when I will see my family again.
To date, refugees in Tanzania continue to live with the uncertainty and fear that they could be subjected again to similar arbitrary mistreatment.
Refugees who have been able to get back to their former homes have found their personal belongings gone, their schools and other community institutions closed, and relations with their Tanzanian neighbors fraught with distrust.
The Human Rights Watch report---published in the wake of a June visit to the region by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata--notes that the large refugee flows from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have indeed taken a heavy toll on neighboring countries, such as Tanzania, that host the hundreds of thousands who flee violence and insecurity. The large refugee populations have exacerbated economic strains and environmental degradations in host countries, and militants among the refugees have caused crime and insecurity.
There have been reports that Burundian rebels are operating from Tanzanian bases, importing weapons through Tanzania and recruiting and training refugees, as well as intimidating and extorting food or money from them.
The report suggests that the Tanzanian government could increase police patrols at the border, relocate refugee camps and settlements farther away from the border, and investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for criminal activity.
Each of these proposals would be preferable to the confinement in closed camps thousands of people who have not historically jeopardized Tanzania's safety.
Human Rights Watch calls on the international community to provide greater financial and logistical support to the Tanzanian government to enable them to adopt alternative security measures that comply with human rights and refugee law.
Human Rights Watch also noted that the 30th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Refugee Convention is marked by growing hostility and mistreatment of refugees in the region.
For Further Information:
Binaifer Nowrojee, Cambridge USA (617)493-2990
Peter Takirambudde, NY, USA (212)216-1223
Rachael Reilly, NY USA (212)216-1208
Jean Paul Marthoz, Brussels 32-2-732-2009
Urmi Shah, London 44-171-713-1995