afrol News, 16 April - The government of Tanzania has announced its decision to grant citizenship to some 162,000 Burundian refugees who fled to Tanzania in 1972. The decision was met with joy among the refugees.
Tanzania's Home Affairs Minister Lawrence Masha today told a gathering of so-called "1972 Burundian refugees" that his government had completed a naturalisation exercise which began in 2008 and in total granted citizenship to 162,000 refugees.
A further 53,600 of the "1972 Burundians" had earlier opted to repatriate in 2008 and 2009 with help from the UN's refugee agency UNHCR. While the Burundian civil war has ended, the country still struggles with the aftermath of the long and brutal war.
"Let me be the first person to welcome you as Tanzanians and not refugees," said Minister Masha, visiting the Katumba ward in the south-west of the country. The Minister also posted the first formal notification list of Burundian refugees who were being granted citizenship.
Burundian refugees at Katumba, while expecting a positive message from the Minister, erupted in joy and cheer as the message was given. The Burundians have fought for Tanzanian citizenship for years.
Festo Crispin, a representative for the refugees, asked to speak and thanked the government. He pledged "that we shall be exemplary citizens," while adding that "we will continue to need your guidance and support until we are able to stand on our own."
Katumba was one of the three so-called "old settlements" inhabited by the 1972 Burundians. Similar notifications were simultaneously released in the two other settlements of Mishamo and Ulyankulu by senior Tanzanian immigration officials. The naturalized Burundians will now live among the general population.
Also in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, the first naturalisation ceremonies of Burundians were held today. Home Affairs Minister Masha handed over the first naturalisation certificates to three Burundian students, including Fidelitha Momenye, a final-year sociology student at the University of Dar es Salaam.
The 25-year-old student said it was an honour and privilege to be the first Burundian refugee from the old settlements to become a Tanzanian citizen. "It is a milestone in my life which will open new opportunities," said Ms Momenye. "I was born here, educated here, taught by Tanzanian teachers and helped by many Tanzanians all my life, I am ready to use my knowledge for the benefit of my country and community," she pledged.
Minister Masha warmly welcomed the new nationals. "Effectively they have all the rights of every Tanzanian. They are free to go anywhere and enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. They are free to seek employment anywhere and free to continue life as normal Tanzanians," he stressed.
The Tanzanian government announcement coincided with UN High Commissioner for Refugee António Guterres to the East African country. The UNHCR leader joined Minister Masha's visit to Katumba and was the first to congratulate the Burundian ex-refugees, were he received a warm welcome.
Mr Guterres praised the Tanzanian government for its "unprecedented generosity and courageous decision" to finding lasting solutions for these Burundian refugees. According to UNHCR, "this is the first time that any state has naturalized such a large group of refugees under the protection of UNHCR in a single move."
The UN refugee chief called on the international community to "recognise Tanzania's generous gesture" and appealed to donors to "respond positively to ensure that the process of integrating its new nationals is successful."
In Dar es Salaam, Mr Guterres met with Tanzanian Prime Minister Peter Pinda, who assured him of his government's commitment to integrate the naturalised Burundians into Tanzanian society.
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