Tanzania has hosted refugees for decades.2 Since the 1960s, refugees from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe have fled their countries for various reasons and benefited from Tanzania's generous asylum policies. For decades, Tanzania welcomed refugees, offered them land for settlement, integrated them among the local populations, and, on occasion, even made offers of citizenship to some of the long-term refugees.
Tanzania currently hosts the largest refugee population in the Great Lakes region with refugees coming mainly from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. The largest number among this group are some 274,000 ethnic Hutu Burundian refugees living in the refugee camps in Tanzania. They have fled the longstanding conflict in Burundi that has resulted in indiscriminate killing, rape, and torture of thousands of civilians by both the Tutsi-dominated government forces and Hutu armed opposition groups. Waves of violence have brought large influxes over the Burundi border to Tanzania particularly in 1972, 1993 and 1996, and a constant flow of incoming refugees continues to date.3 Recent arrivals since 1993 have been placed in refugee camps along Tanzania's borderwith Burundi. Formal recognition of Burundi's acute political crisis was made in 1993, when the Tanzanian Ministry of Home Affairs determined that all Burundians in Tanzania qualified for prima facie refugee status on the basis of their nationality due to the unrest in Burundi. Additionally, some 200,000 longstanding Burundian refugees and migrants of the 1970s, known generally as "old caseload" refugees (and not included in the abovementioned UNHCR figure of 274,000), have lived for decades on several settlements provided to them by the Tanzanian government.4 Many of these old caseload refugees were uprooted by the round-ups.
The Old Caseload Burundian Refugees
Tanzania's welcome to the old caseload Burundian refugee population exemplifies its generous and model refugee policies of the past. Through the 1970s, Tanzania received a major influx of Burundian Hutu refugees following massacres in Burundi. The Tanzanian government welcomed them, allocated land for them to live and farm on, and allowed them to integrate into local communities in western Tanzania. These refugees were well integrated and assimilated into Tanzanian society either in refugee settlements or in existing villages along the border. At the time, UNHCR provided funding to augment the existing infrastructure. The refugee settlements were patterned after Tanzanian villages, and as in Tanzanian villages, the administrative structure of each settlement included a village chair, secretary and treasurer assisted by five committees for education, finance, development, security, and health. Over the years, the Tanzanian government even extended several offers of eligibility for naturalization to this group, which permitted them to apply for Tanzanian citizenship.
The policies of the Tanzanian government allowed refugees to become productive, self-sufficient members of the communities into which they were accepted. Within a short time, these refugees neither required nor received any assistance from the Tanzanian government or UNHCR. Refugees were able to cultivate the plots of land given to them and to contribute to the community around them, rather than be dependent recipients of food aid. By selling part of their harvest, refugees would earn some money and contribute positively to the Tanzanian economy. For example, near the Rusumo border area, there has been a large common market held on Saturdays where refugees and Tanzanians have traded for years. These refugees also contributed to the government and paid a monthly tax to finance public services. In many cases, these longtime refugees were so assimilated that they were allowed by the local authorities to become members of the ruling political party and even voted in local and national elections.
For example, in Ulyankulu settlement near Tabora, some 20,000 refugees lived in eleven villages. According to the June 1990 census, each family was allocated five hectares of land for food production in a 1,200-square-kilometer area with twelve primary schools, a vocational training center, a rural health center, five dispensaries, and fifty-five water wells. In Katumba settlement near Mpanda, a June 1992 estimate found that since 1974, some 84,000 refugees were settled in twenty-nine villages. There were twenty-four primary schools, one secondary school and one vocational school (attended by both refugees and Tanzanians), two health centers, six dispensaries, two to six water wells per village, and one cooperative. In Mishamo settlement in Mpanda, an estimate in June 1988 found that 35,000 refugees were settled in sixteen villages. The settlement contained sixteen primary schools, one health center, four dispensaries, one cooperative, and 250 water boreholes.5 Hundreds more of these types of settlements were created by the Tanzanian government to host the refugee populations that arrived in the 1970s.
For the most part, the policies of integration and assimilation of this refugee population were successful. These refugees were not a burden to the government and contributed economically and socially to their communities.
Growing Hostility Against Refugees
In the last several years, there has been growing xenophobia and hostility against refugees in Tanzania. The large influxes of refugees from the conflicts in Great Lakes region have taken a serious security, financial, and environmental toll, which we do not seek to minimize. The refugee populations in Tanzania have always contained militants-from the southern African refugees of the past to the present day populations from Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Political and military elements intent on cross-border incursions have sought to control and exploit the refugee camps in the Great Lakes region, with serious consequences for host countries. As a result, security in the Tanzanian refugee camps and the surrounding areas has deteriorated. The large refugee camps have also taken an environmental toll on the countryside, as large tracts of land have been cleared for refugee camps and the area deforested by refugees in search of firewood for fuel. Additionally, prior to the 1995 elections, Tanzanian opposition politicians sought to exploit local concerns and undermine support for the ruling party by attributing crime and land shortages to the government's generous refugee policy.6
The growing hostility against refugees has resulted in violations of international refugee law on the part of the Tanzanian government, reversing a long and admirable history of hospitality to refugees. In 1995, the Tanzanian government closed its borders to Burundians seeking refugee. In December 1996, the Tanzanian army herded some half-million Rwandan refugees over the border back to Rwanda. Among this Rwandan Hutu refugee population, which had fled after the 1994 genocide fearing reprisal from the new Rwandan government,7 were Rwandans responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity who used the refugee cover to conduct military incursions over the border into Rwanda as well as using terror and force to prevent voluntary return. For two years, the international community remained unwilling, and the Tanzanian government unable, to devote the necessary political or financial resources to screen out combatants or those suspected of genocide.8 However, the Tanzanian government's action-without regard for whether these Rwandan refugees held a well-founded fear of persecution upon return-coupled with the use of teargas and sticks to herd them towards the border amounted to a serious violation of international refugee law that prohibits forced return, refoulement. This violation was facilitated and sanctioned by UNHCR, and watched with virtually no protest by the international community.
Since that time, growing xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment among Tanzanians of all walks of life have notably hardened. Throughout 1997, the Tanzanian government closed the border to Rwandan refugees and forcibly returned a number of Rwandans, although it continued to accept Burundian and Congolese (DRC) refugees. In 1997, after fighting broke out between rival Burundian rebel supporters in the Kitali Hills refugee camp, the Tanzanian government returned 126 Burundians accused of conducting armed rebel activity in Tanzania. Of those, 124 were shot by the Burundian army at the Kobero border post on January 10, 1997.
Since the killing of the Burundian refugees, the Tanzanian government has been reluctant to forcibly return any more refugees and clearly stated to Human Rights Watch that it has no plans to do so.9 Additionally, as of January 1998, the government reversed its policy to allow Rwandan refugees to cross the border into Tanzania for the first timesince the 1996 refoulement. While the Tanzanian government's position on non-refoulement is commendable, the incidents described above and the growing anti-refugee sentiment among Tanzanians generally are extremely worrying developments.
The 1998 Refugees Act
In December 1998, the National Assembly of Tanzania passed a new refugee law, the 1998 Refugees Act, which superseded the 1965 Refugee Control Act. Copies of the new law have been difficult to obtain. Moreover, the process through which the law was drafted was flawed. For example, Article 35(2) of the 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees obliges states to provide UNHCR with "information and statistical data requested concerning: (a) the condition of refugees, (b) the implementation of this Convention, and ( c) laws, regulations and decrees which are, or may hereafter be, in force relating to refugees." There was no such consultation in the drafting of the December 1998 law. Nor were Tanzanian humanitarian groups consulted, such that Tanzanian church leaders raised public protests to highlight the possible new restrictions in the law.10 Absent any opportunity for refugee-interested organizations to contribute to the draft law, a number of provisions were included that could be detrimental to refugee protection, including greater powers to camp commanders, the lack of adequate due process protections in the appeals process for status determination interviews, and greater powers devolved to local authorities.112 As established in the 1951 United Nations (U.N.) Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." The Organization of African Unity (OAU) 1974 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa further expands the refugee definition within Africa to include, "every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his country of origin or nationality." 3 In a continuing civil war in Burundi, both government troops and insurgent Hutu opposition groups have slaughtered unarmed civilians on ethnic lines and carried out other egregious human rights violations. In October 1993, officers of the predominantly Tutsi army murdered Melchior Ndadaye, the country's first Hutu president, and other senior government officials elected freely and fairly several months before. The coup triggered country-wide violence in which Hutu attacked Tutsi and in turn faced attacks from the military. Tens of thousands of civilians were slaughtered following President Ndadaye's murder and hundreds of thousands fled to neighboring countries. A January 1994 transitional power-sharing government was short-lived when Maj. Pierre Buyoya seized power in a military coup in July 1996. To date, the army and security services and armed Tutsi political groups associated with them have conducted a creeping war against the civilian Hutu population through concerted campaigns of terror. Insurgent Hutu opposition groups fighting government forces havealso been responsible for violating principles of humanitarian law. Diplomatic initiatives, led by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, to negotiate an end to the war and to restore a multiparty democracy continue to date. Human Rights Watch, Proxy Targets: Civilians in the War in Burundi, (New York: Human Rights Watch, March 1998). 4 This is a rough estimate currently used by UNHCR and the Tanzanian government based on a 1970s estimate of 80,000. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with UNHCR staff member, New York, April 22, 1999.
5 UNHCR, Milestone, vol. 1, issue 2, Dar-es-Salaam, September 1997, pp. 4-5.
6 See, Augustine Mahiga, "Tanzania: A Change of Direction," Refugees, UNHCR, no.110, Winter 1997, pp. 14-15.
7 For information on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, see Human Rights Watch and Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, (New York: Human Rights Watch, March 1999); Human Rights Watch/Africa, Human Rights Watch/Women's Rights Project, and Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme, Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1996).
8 Under refugee law, those suspected of rebel activity, genocide, and crimes against humanity have no right to the status of refugee and should have been excluded from such status. Had the international community provided the necessary assistance to the Tanzanian government to undertake such a task at the outset, then those Rwandans who wished to return could have done so voluntarily and remaining legitimate refugees would have been assured of the protection promised by law.
9 Human Rights Watch interview, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officials Bernard Mchomvu, MHA principal secretary; Caroline Mchome, refugee department legal protection head; Johnson Brahim, refugee department project head; and Patrick Tsere, principal refugee officer, Dar-es-Salaam, June 10, 1998.
10 "Refugee Bill Criticized by Tanzanian Church Leaders," AANA, Arusha, January 11, 1999.
11 The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania, Bill Supplement, "The Refugees Act, 1998," no. 6, Gazette of the United Republic of Tanzania No. 39, vol. 79 (Government Printer: Dar-es-Salaam, September 25, 1998).