From refugee to returnee to asylum seeker: Burundian refugees struggle to find protection in the Great Lakes region

Published: 1 Nov 2013

Based on interviews conducted in Nakivale settlement in Uganda and discussions of the findings with the government of Uganda and UNHCR, the briefing tells the story of a small number of Burundian refugees and asylum seekers who have fled into a second phase of exile. As former refugees living in Tanzania’s Mtabila refugee camp, they were forcibly returned to Burundi at the end of 2012 before fleeing once more, this time to Uganda’s Nakivale refugee settlement. Here, they report that they are eking out a precarious living, with inadequate access to humanitarian assistance and with little confidence that their claims for protection will be successful.

Their future is highly precarious, and the story they tell underscores the realities of living in a region that has failed to find a comprehensive solution to the plight of thousands of refugees. It points to a Tanzanian government fatigued with hosting refugees for decades; a Burundian government that has failed to establish and implement equitable structures for the distribution and reclamation of land and to create an inclusive polity in which opposition is tolerated; and a Ugandan government reportedly concerned about granting refugee status to asylum seekers whose status has been examined multiple times.

The wider context in which these events are unfolding is one in which repatriation and return—including forced return in the context of cessation—is being strongly emphasised across the region for protracted refugee situations to the detriment of those for whom return is not possible. As a result, while closing Mtabila camp in Tanzania and emptying it of refugees might have made it look like the problem had been resolved for the government of Tanzania and the international community, in reality it may have only displaced it elsewhere in the region.

In light of the findings, the briefing concludes with a number of recommendations.

Programmes: Causes of Displacement, Resolving Displacement
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania
Type: Library, Paper