Tanzania has forcibly expelled 15,000 Burundi and 7,000 Rwandan nationals, who were accused of living in the country illegally, in a move that relief agencies warn is leading to a humanitarian crisis.
In an order issued on 25 July 2013, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete told 35,000 irregular migrants from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda to leave the country by 11 August. Many of those expelled had lived in Tanzania for several decades.
Those deported say that Tanzanian police, backed by groups of youths, arrested them, forcing them out of Tanzania with no chance to pack or bid farewell.
“You might be in a bar, on your way home or in a market - you cannot go back. I was returning from the lake. I came in the clothes I had on,” Nzigo, a 54-year-old fisherman living in the Tanzanian region of Kigoma, said at Burundi’s Mabanda transit site. “I had built a house and bought a land in Tanzania. I left everything to start afresh.”
In Burundi, the first batch of those expelled began arriving in early August in the northeastern province of Muyinga, coming in via the Kobero border post. In September, movement intensified, with people entering from three other posts - Gisuru in the east, Mabanda in the south and Giharo in the southeast.
As of 14 September, in Burundi, 6,000 deportees were in the southeastern province of Rutana, 1,000 were at Rugazi, in Muyinga Province, and nearly 600 were at the Mabanda transit site in Makamba Province.
Between 7,000 and 8,000 Rwandans, mainly women and children, were expelled from the Tanzanian regions of Biharamuro, Ngara, Mureba and Karagwe, according to figures issued on 12 September by Rwanda’s Ministry of Refugees and Disaster Management.
Separated from families
During the deportation process, many were separated from their families. Saviana Vyukusenge, 31, who was living at Mwunga, in Kigoma Region, with her Tanzanian husband and three children, was selling clothes in a market when she was rounded up with other Burundians. She arrived in the transit site with only her three-year-old child.
Burundi Red Cross spokesperson Alexis Manirakiza told IRIN that, in addition to providing first aid, restoring family links is one of their priorities. “We help them with telephone calls to family members left behind or, if need be, we [will] get in contact with the Red Cross in Tanzania,” he said.
Tanzanian government spokesperson Assah Mwambene defended the decision to expel irregular migrants.
“As we have said from the outset, this operation does not target people from individual countries. We are trying to send the message that people should respect the rule of law. There are procedures to be followed before someone is naturalized to be a citizen of Tanzania,” he told IRIN.
Worsening conditions in camps
Humanitarian conditions are deteriorating in transit camps in Rwanda and Burundi.
At least 7,035 people are living in tents in three such camps in Rwanda - Kiyanzi, Rukira and Ngoma. While local humanitarian agencies say that Rwanda has allocated enough space to host the returnees, a large proportion of people are arriving in the camps suffering from malaria.
"Currently the situation in the transit camp is changing because the number is increasing day by day," the head of disaster management in the Rwanda Red Cross, Angelique Murungi, told IRIN.
"Despite all these efforts to accommodate these deported families, there is still a need to provide temporary housing for these homeless people since shelter remains a critical challenge" Jean Claude Rwahama, a senior official in the Rwanda's Ministry of Refugees Affairs and Disaster Management, told IRIN.
In Burundi, returnees faced a shortage of food and basic necessities. “If you have 10 children, you are given one kilo of rice, and you are given another one after a week,” said Nassor Karugendo, who arrived at Rugazi, in the northeast of Burundi, last week. He was cooking his rice over a fire, stirring it with a wooden stick as he did not have utensils.
Many complained of lack of blankets and adequate clothing. But Reverien Simbarakiye, in charge of repatriation at Burundi’s Ministry of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender, said that returnees were provided emergency aid on arrival. He said that on 13 September, 20 tons of rice was sent to Muyinga, 30 tons to Rutana and three tons to Makamba.
Simbarakiye also said that, with the assistance of the administration, those expelled are being relocated to their home provinces. “They are not bound to stay in transit sites for long. Those who still remember their homes are escorted back to their respective villages with a return package of five kilos of rice, a jerry can, kitchen utensils and clothes,” he said.
Still, Cyriaque Kabendera, a 43-year-old father of five, who was deported from Ngara, was not convinced that government assurances to resettle them would be realized. "I would prefer to return to Tanzania despite tension and fear of clashes," Kabendera told IRIN at Rwanda’s Kiyanzi transit camp.
Lived there for decades
Most returnees have spent most their lives in Tanzania. “Some have lived there since the 1970s or even before, and considered themselves as Tanzanians, but without official documents to prove their citizenship. Tanzania is therefore expelling them as illegal immigrants,” said Simbarakiye. He said that they had settled in western Tanzania for economic reasons, without official authorization.
This complicates the resettlement process. "There is a big challenge for many of these returnees since the majority cannot recall their former home locations in Rwanda," Rwahama told IRIN.
Many also arrived in Rwanda with their cattle but nowhere to graze. Rwahama said that the government would "help these families in selling their heads of cattle and invest[ing] in other socioeconomic projects, including building… decent homes," as the country would not be able to provide enough space for pasture.
Fred Mutagwera, a lawyer based in Kigali who has dual Rwandan-Tanzanian nationality, told IRIN that the current mass deportation of Rwandan nationals by Tanzanian authorities came amid indications of a political row between the two countries, which could affect millions of people in the trans-boundary region.
"This is because the situation from their [families deported from] former villages is still unstable due to continuous tension of Tanzanian communities and local authorities in different parts of that country", he said.
Relations between Rwanda and Tanzania soured suddenly in June after Tanzania’s President Kikwete suggested Kampala and Kigali negotiate with Ugandan and Rwandan rebel groups operating in DRC. This prompted Rwandan President Paul Kagame to accuse Kikwete of “siding” with the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. Tanzania also commands and has troops deployed in the Force Intervention Brigade of the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, which has gone on the offensive against M23, a Congolese armed group widely suspected of enjoying support from Rwanda.
“Rwanda is attractive for Tanzania in terms of business transactions through imports and exports, and both countries are members of the East African Community... Therefore closer ties between [them] would bring an end to the threatening humanitarian crisis,” he said.
Errors identifying irregular migrants
There have been errors in identifying illegal migrants, and some who claimed to have Tanzanian citizenship were expelled.
“I have documents. I even showed them to the police, but they told me to refer the case to Burundi,” said Simon Asmani, a 41-year-old fisherman born in Tanzania to Burundian parents who had fled in 1972.
“This exercise should be conducted very carefully. Our country shares its borders with eight countries. People are obviously intermingling, and it is easy to mistaken genuine citizen with foreigners. Unless the government use[s] some sort of wisdom, this operation will create a lot of problems,” said Tanzania Member of Parliament Zitto Babwe. “The government should immediately issue national identity cards to its citizens.”
Simon Siro, spokesperson for the Tanzanian police force, noted that 396 people had been erroneously identified as illegal immigrants. But he said that a screening exercise is taking place, and those who are proven as citizens are being released.
“We give these forms to whoever we suspect to be an alien. When they fill it in, we realize who is a citizen and who is not,” Dar es Salaam region immigration officer Sylvanus Mwakasekela told IRIN. “Most of those we have interviewed confessed to be originating from neighbouring countries.”