The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it welcomes the
Tanzanian government's decision Tuesday to grant citizenship to
thousands of Burundian refugees. The UNHCR says this action will help
to resolve one of the world's most enduring refugee problems.
162,000 Burundians, who have been living as refugees in Tanzanian
settlements for more than three decades, accepted the government's offer
to apply for citizenship.
U.N. refugee spokesman, Andrej
Mahecic, says the government of Tanzania granted citizenship August 4
to a first group of 3,568 Burundian refugees.
marks a major milestone in a program that will bring to a close one of
the world's most protracted refugee situations," he said. "It also
represents the first time that any country in Africa has naturalized
refugees on such a scale."
In 1972, some 218,000 Burundians
fled to Tanzania to escape violence in their country. Early last year,
the Tanzanian government gave these refugees a choice to either return
home or to apply for Tanzanian citizenship.
Mahecic says the
UNHCR saw this as an opportunity not to be missed. He says the UNHCR
advocated on behalf of the refugees with the governments of Tanzania
and Burundi and offered to provide tangible assistance both to those
who decided to return home and to those who opted to stay in Tanzania.
some 162,000 of the original case load decided to stay and applied for
naturalization," said Mahecic. "The final breakthrough basically came
on Tuesday when the Tanzanian Minister of Home Affairs granted
citizenship to the first group of applicants."
"Out of 3,570
individuals, only two were rejected. At the same time, the Tanzanian
government reaffirmed its commitment to finalize the processing of the
remaining population before the end of the year," he added.
the meantime, Mahecic says the UNHCR has helped to return 45,000
Burundian refugees who decided they wanted to go back to the homes they
fled decades ago. He says the agency will assist another nine thousand
refugees to return in the coming months.