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Thursday, June 23, 2011

World Refugee Day 2011

Message from Mr. Oluseyi Bajulaiye, UNHCR Representative for Tanzania

Each year on 20 June World Refugee Day is commemorated all over the world. It is a day to honour the spirit and courage of millions of refugees worldwide and to recognize their contributions in their host communities.

It is also the one day of the year that UNHCR and the refugees have the attention of the world’s media to raise awareness and understanding on their behalf.

Everyone can be a refugee! 

This is a persistent message that UNHCR, since its creation 60 years ago, has been delivering to the world while addressing the humanitarian consequences of armed conflicts. It is UNHCR's mission to ensure protection and find solutions for refugees in partnership with governments and civil society organizations. 

While most of the countries in the Great Lakes Region have suffered ethnic and civil conflict, Tanzania has remained generally peaceful. For this reason and for the generosity and kindness for decades, the country hosted the largest refugee population in Africa - over half a million refugees in the past.

The number of refugees hosted in the camps in North-western Tanzania has decreased very significantly in recent years thanks to the Government and UNHCR’s focus on finding durable solutions for the refugee population. 

Since 2002, over 500,000 Burundian and Congolese camp refugees were assisted to voluntarily repatriate, others were given the possibility to resettle in third countries.

The pursuit of durable solutions went further when the government took the unprecedented decision to grant citizenship to some 162,000 Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1972 and settled in the three settlements of Katumba, Mishamo, and Ulyankulu in Rukwa and Tabora regions.

Our slogan for this year's refugee day is “1 of us: A Refugee yesterday, A Citizen today” is intended to acknowledge the generosity and hospitality of Tanzania in giving this population the opportunity to locally integrate in the country that they call their home.

‘1 of Us’ because the majority of the naturalized 1972 Burundians were born and educated in Tanzania and have lived here for almost 40 years. ‘1 of Us’ because they will have the same rights and obligations as all Tanzanian citizens.

Lastly, ‘1 of Us’ because the new citizens with their gradual integration into local Tanzanian communities across the country will contribute to local socio-economic development.  It is a globally accepted fact that diversity and enrichment of population often stimulate growth and development.  

In the case of the newly naturalised Tanzanians, they are very good traders, a lot of them running businesses and exporting food and non-food crops outside the settlements. The food crops - mainly maize, millet, cassava, rice and beans - grown by the new citizens in the settlements make up a considerable proportion of the arable produce available at market in Tabora and Rukwa regions, and contribute significantly to food security in central Tanzania.

In Mishamo alone 6,000 tons of tobacco was produced in 2009/2010 which equalled 1.5bn/- tax revenue for the Government of Tanzania.

Over the past year the Prime Minister’s Office for Regional Administration and Local Governments has launched the National Strategy for local integration of this population.

Preparations for the relocation have already started and the Government supported by UNHCR is informing local authorities and the receiving communities about the program as it is their hospitality that will make the new citizens feel like “1 of us”.

Some 800 naturalisation certificates have been issued, largely to those already living in urban areas doing business and studying, while the rest will be issued once those living in the settlements have reached their final destination in the regions selected for relocation by the Government. 

UNHCR hopes that other states will recognize the vision and foresightedness of the Tanzanian Government in granting citizenship to refugees in long and protracted situations with required commitment and support from international community in view of the burden such initiatives poses.  

Lastly, UNHCR is also actively involved in the One UN Joint Programme "Transition from Humanitarian Assistance to Sustainable Development in North-western Tanzania", where the UN Refugee agency is mandated to assure that assets formerly used in the closed refugee camps are converted into structures for the local communities, such as the rehabilitation or construction of schools, health centres and youth development centres. 

The Joint Programme is encapsulated in the new UN Development Assistance Plan (UNDAP) from June 2011 onwards with the aim to have one single voice among 20 different UN agencies.

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