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14 April 2021 – Tanzania

Foreign Policy, “Kicking Refugees Out Makes Everyone Less Safe,” 18 February 2021,
Foreign Policy, “Kicking Refugees Out Makes Everyone Less Safe,” 18 February 2021,

In a statement released on 13 April, UN experts–including members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Torture–called on the Tanzanian and Burundian governments to respect the rights of Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in Tanzania.

Tanzania currently hosts an estimated 150,000 Burundian refugees, the majority of whom fled the country following deadly clashes surrounding Burundi’s 2015 presidential election. Authorities impose a strict encampment policy, and most refugees live in three refugee camps located in the north-west’s Kigoma region–Nyarugusu, Mtendeli, and Nduta. They are prohibited from leaving these camps to work or to access schools.

In recent years, reports have highlighted repeated intimidations and severe abuses of Burundian refugees by Tanzanian authorities (often in cooperation with Burundian authorities), including abductions and disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, and forced returns. In late August 2019, Tanzanian and Burundian authorities announced that all Burundian refugees would be returned, and in September 2019 Amnesty International reported having seen a confidential document signed by Tanzania’s Minister of Home Affairs and Burundi’s Minister of Interior agreeing to conduct returns with or without the refugee’s consent.

“In addition to the strict encampment policy imposed on them by the Government of Tanzania, Burundian refugees and asylum-seekers now live in fear of being abducted in the middle of the night by Tanzanian security forces and taken to an unknown location or being forcefully returned to Burundi,” write the UN experts. The group cite reports alleging that Burundian political opponents have been tracked among the refugee population by undercover Burundian intelligence agents, and later apprehended by Tanzanian authorities.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), between October 2019 and August 2020, at least 11 Burundians were arbitrarily detained for up to several weeks in “abysmal conditions” in a police station in Kibondo. “The Burundians said that Tanzanian police detained them in rooms with no electricity or windows, took them to a separate building on the police station grounds, and hanged them from the ceiling by their handcuffs. Some said that police and intelligence agents gave them electric shocks, rubbed their faces and genitals with chili, and beat and whipped them. In some cases, police and intelligence officers told them they had received information from Burundian authorities about them, suggesting collusion between agents from the two countries.” According to HRW, three were released in Tanzania, while the remaining eight were forcibly returned to Burundi where they were immediately detained in Muramvya and Bubanza prisons without charge.

More recently, in February 2021 UNHCR reported its concerns following a series of distressed messages from Burundian asylum seekers held in a detention facility in Mutukula. According to the rights agency, the refugees had expressed fears for their safety should they be returned to Burundi. To-date, the GDP has not been able to ascertain further information regarding the exact location of–or conditions in–this detention centre.