Tanzania Plans to Naturalize 160,000 Refugees

Erol Kekic | November 5, 2014

Refugees in East Africa awaiting their food ration in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. Photo: Annie Griffiths/Ripple Effect Images

Refugees in East Africa awaiting their food ration in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. Photo: Annie Griffiths/Ripple Effect Images

This year, The United Republic of Tanzania, a long time host to multiple refugee populations, has recently introduced a groundbreaking initiative – granting citizenship to over 160,000 former Burundian refugees in the country.  This heroic action has the potential to become an example for the rest of the world to follow.

There are more people displaced by conflict in the world today than in any time since the Second World War. Five complex emergencies have evolved concurrently this year, the first such happening since the creation of the UN.  The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimates that due to conflicts in Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ukraine and other places, some 51 million people have been forced out of their homes and are in need of durable solutions.  Unfortunately today, few are available.

While three “durable” solutions are well established and promoted – voluntary repatriation, local integration in the country of first asylum, and resettlement to third countries, the sheer numbers of actual “slots” available to those displaced never comes close the need.

The gulf between the resources available to assist and the number of crises needing those same resources continues to expand.  Consequently, the brunt of the responsibility for caring for the displaced remains with host nations. Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Ethiopia, Kenya and Thailand altogether generously host refugee populations in the millions.

The decision to grant citizenship to over 160,000 former Burundian refugees, who have enjoyed Tanzanian hospitality since 1972, is a heroic and admirable act on the part of the Government of Tanzania. This is the largest group of refugees in UNHCR history for whom citizenship was made available by the country of first asylum. This move has created a real significance for the term local integration, and placed this solution back into the center of discussions relating to forced displacement globally.

This is a big development in international protection regime and practices, and an example to be taken seriously by other nations hosting refugees.  The Tanzanian government has proactively recognized the many skills and resources that refugees have brought to the local context.

The refugees reside primarily in three settlement areas in the Tabor and Katavi region in western Tanzania.  The refugees themselves have become self-sufficient and productive members of the local community.  They have shown their ability to enhance the developmental potential of the entire region as they continually engage in farming, producing tobacco and coffee for export from Tanzania.

CWS wholeheartedly welcomes the initiative by the Tanzanian authorities and as a newly registered charity in the country, looks forward to supporting the implementation of this naturalization process in all appropriate ways.  Also admirable is the committed work of UNHCR, who partnered with the Tanzanian Government over the years and assisted in creating the conditions for this decision to be reached.

In honor of the decision by the Government of Tanzania, CWS will present the annual 2014 John Backer, Champion 4 Change Award to the Director of the Tanzanian Refugee Services Department, Mr. Harrison Mseke.  The award ceremony will take place on November 12th, at the annual CWS Benefit 4 Change in Midtown Manhattan where Mr. Mseke will speak concerning his country’s heroic stance in creating a world where we all can find a place to call home.

If you would like to enjoy an evening with CWS and see Mr. Mseke speak at the CWS Benefit 4 Change, you can purchase tickets here.

Erol Kekic is the Director of the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program