“I can’t be a citizen if I am still a refugee:” Challenges in the naturalisation process for Burundians in Tanzania

Published: 1 Apr 2013

Approximately 162,000 former Burundian refugees in Tanzania are living in legal limbo in Tanzania. Having been accepted for naturalisation and having renounced their Burundian nationality, they are now unable to get certificates confirming their new status. The situation facing this group is the subject of a paper launched by the International Refugee Rights Initiative today, “I can’t be a citizen if I am still a refugee” Former Burundian refugees struggle to assert their new Tanzanian citizenship. The launch follows a discussion of the paper on 19 March at the University of Dar es Salaam attended by representatives from government, the UN, donors, NGOs and the academic community.

Building on research conducted in 2008, the new research conducted in late 2012 asked whether or not naturalisation has translated into genuine citizenship for this group of (former) refugees both legally and practically. Based on 101 interviews with former refugees, local government officials and members of the host community, as well as engagement with national government officials, the findings show that the former refugees are—as a matter of practice—caught somewhere between refugee status and the genuine assertion of their new citizenship. An unprecedented offer has become increasingly caught up in the realities of implementation and realpolitik. While it is important not to detract from the level of generosity of the government of Tanzania’s original offer, the process has revealed a disjuncture between presentation and reality and the whole undertaking appears to be in jeopardy.

With their applications for naturalisation accepted, but without documentation to that effect, the former refugees remain in a legal limbo.

Programmes: Resolving Displacement, Rights in Exile
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Burundi, Tanzania
Type: Library, Paper