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(Bujumbura) - Tanzania should immediately suspend its program to expel people of Rwandan and Burundian origin from Tanzania, and end the abuses that its security forces are committing against these people, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

Since May 2006, Tanzania has sent back some 15,000 persons to Rwanda and several thousand more to Burundi.

“Tanzania has the right to expel people who are illegally within its territory, but it must assess cases individually,” said Alison des Forges, senior Africa advisor at Human Rights Watch. “Arbitrary expulsion of people based on their national origin is a serious violation of international law.”

The Tanzanian government says the operation is aimed at reducing the number of illegal immigrants in the country, but Tanzanian officials have also expelled naturalized Tanzanian citizens, registered refugees living in refugee camps, and persons who have an apparently valid claim to asylum but reside outside of camps. Some have lived in Tanzania for decades or were born there and have never lived elsewhere. According to Tanzanian officials, the operation is targeting a total of 60,000 persons of Rwandan origin and an as yet unspecified number of persons of Burundian origin.

According to accounts gathered by Human Rights Watch, Tanzanian soldiers, police and militia have beaten and threatened people whom they wanted to expel and have looted and destroyed their property. In some places, these roundups have resulted in parents being separated from children, including infants being separated from their mothers. In addition, police have confiscated and destroyed documents proving that the targeted persons were naturalized Tanzanian citizens.

The Tanzanian government failed to provide adequate warning of the expulsion to the governments of Rwanda and Burundi or to humanitarian agencies, thus hampering the prompt delivery of assistance to the new arrivals. Many of those expelled now live in misery and are short of food, firewood and shelter, as governments and agencies scramble to meet their needs.

Some returnees have been able to return to families and communities familiar to them, but thousands of others in Rwanda, and some 300 in Burundi, remain in precarious conditions in camps because they have no land or families to return to.

Human Rights Watch urged President Kikwete to ensure that all persons at risk of expulsion be screened in an orderly procedure that respects due process, ideally in conjunction with staff of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Those identified by legitimate screening as not being legal residents of Tanzania should be returned to their countries of origin in dignity, without being separated from their family members or deprived of their property.

“Tanzania has long been admired as a generous host country for refugees in the Great Lakes region,” said des Forges. “These expulsions and their brutality undermine that reputation and put vulnerable people in jeopardy.”

To view the letter from Human Rights Watch to Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, please visit:

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