- Published on Sunday, 22 July 2012 01:49
- Written by EDITOR
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THE time is over for Burundian refugees and they should now go back home, even if it would be against their will or a disappointment to some of the humanitarian agencies that have been assisting them.
That is basically a general opinion. However, it was given emphasis by President Jakaya Kikwete during a meeting at the State House in Dar es Salaam on Thursday this week, when he held talks with President Pierre Nkurunziza's special envoy Sheikh Mohamed Rukara.
President Kikwete told Sheikh Rukara that Tanzania would make sure that all refugee camps sheltering Burundian refugees would be closed down and that 'our neighbours' return to their country was imminent.
The president made it clear that there was no strong reason for the Burundians to stay in Tanzania as refugees while back home peace had been restored and life was back to normal in their motherland.
We understand that it is not easy to resettle the refugees who had fled their homes for fear of being caught up and possibly being killed during an armed conflict. Some of them left hurriedly and may have lost their properties which include houses and crops on their farms.
Indeed, some families may have been separated, and children may never manage to trace the whereabouts of their parents and vice versa. However, as the adage says: 'East or west, home is best,' the Burundians have no other option but return home to start a new life and deal with the rest of the problems as domestic affairs.
Tanzania has shouldered the refugee burden for many years and that has not been a simple undertaking. While the international community, led by the mighty United High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) helped feed and clothe refugees, Tanzania's soil was their haven. They felt secure and safe from the guns of their enemies.
However, coming to Tanzania in their thousands, and as would be expected, the refugees caused serious environmental and social problems to the host country. It is thus appropriate to say that this country should have made a decision to repatriate all refugees sooner than later. Don't they miss their home anyway?
There have been incidents of environmental degradation as thousands of refugees sneaked out of their camps in search of firewood and an alternative way of life. Living in a refugee camp means leading a secluded life of unpleasant and restricted routine.
In Ngara ( Kagera), Kasulu and Kibondo (Kigoma) where Burundian refugees were hosted, local communities complained of insecurity, saying cases of armed robbery and banditry were on the increase as some of the refugees were heavily armed. There had been fears also that some of the refugees ganged up with locals in committing armed robberies.
Whether or not the refugees' departure would guarantee safety to the local communities, that is not the main point. But, as former President Benjamin Mkapa once said, refugees should return to their countries once they were guaranteed of peace. This will give Tanzania a chance to sort out her own social problems and get relief from the refugee burden.