Burundians in Tanzania See Closed Market as Step Toward Expulsion

Burundian refugees living in the Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania are no longer allowed to conduct business in the camp, depriving them of their only source of livelihood. The ban comes as Tanzanian authorities plan to repatriate the refugees back to Burundi.

George, who is not using his real name, fled Burundi at the height of the political crisis in 2015, and now lives in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in southwestern Tanzania.

He is one of 200,000 Burundian refugees the government of Tanzania is threatening to send home starting next month. George is afraid of what may happen to him if he leaves.

When he lived in Burundi, he says, he was accused of opposing the ruling party, and of being a traitor by providing information to a human rights group regarding abuses taking place in his area.

"If I am taken back to Burundi, my life will be in danger," he said.

Tanzanian authorities reportedly banned refugees from doing business in the camp this week. Refugees see the move as part of a plan to complicate their lives so they return home.

George says closure of the market is a sign of things to come.

"On Monday, the authorities demolished the structures in the market," he said. "People are lost and they don't know what to do because they started closing the market in the camp and tomorrow they will close something else."

Tanzania's plan

Speaking in the camp last month, Tanzania Interior Minister Kangi Lugola said all Burundians in the camp will be repatriated starting Oct. 1. He said the plan is to send home 2,000 refugees each week.

Nearly 75,000 refugees have already returned to Burundi.

Thirty-year-old Havyarimana Salvato, who lives in Mtendeli refugee camp, told VOA that if Tanzania is tired of them, they should be resettled in other countries.

"If they return us back to Burundi, we will die. We want to live in Tanzania. If Tanzanian government doesn't want us here, then they should ask for another place or another country for resettlement," Salvato said.

'Political persecution'

Seif Magango, Amnesty International's deputy director in East Africa, says Burundi is not a safe place for the refugees.

"The situation is still very difficult, marked by political persecution of people perceived to be opposed to the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza," Magango said.

Burundi's political crisis, which began in 2015, has claimed the lives of at least 1,200 people.

As Burundi gears up for elections next year, human rights groups have accused the government of committing abuses against its opponents, a trend that could cause Burundians to again flee their country in large numbers.

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