Ngara. President John Magufuli yesterday ordered the suspension of naturalisation of Burundian refugees, and said those still in Tanzania should voluntarily return home.
Dr Magufuli issued the directive in Ngara District, which borders Burundi, after holding talks with his Burundian counterpart, Mr Pierre Nkurunziza.
Addressing a public rally that was also attended by President Nkurunziza, Dr Magufuli said granting Burundian refugees Tanzanian citizenship was to blame for many of them refusing to go back to Burundi, which, he added, was now peaceful.
“We have been good neighbours and have always welcomed refugees and even offered them citizenship. However, I now direct the Minister of Home Affairs to stop giving Tanzanian citizenship to Burundian refugees...they should now think about going back to their country, rebuilding its economy and fostering good relations between our two countries,” he said. Earlier, Home Affairs minister Mwigulu Nchemba said Tanzania granted citizenship to 160,000 Burundian refugees in 2006 and 2007, adding that the number had since risen to over 200,000.
“About 150,000 refugees have already voluntarily returned home and 5,000 are on the waiting list. We are now working on the logistics of repatriating them.
“The most important thing is to let the world know that there is now peace in Burundi and that the situation is back to normal. This will help to facilitate the return of all refugees,” Mr Nchemba added.
For his part, President Nkurunziza asked his compatriots who had sought refuge in Tanzania to return home and build their country.
“The time to head back home is now. The country is now peaceful and safe. We now need to work hard as one and rebuild our economy,” he said. Commenting on Mr Nkurunziza’s remarks, Dr Magufuli urged Burundian refugees to trust their leader and go back home.
“I’m not forcing you out of Tanzania...not at all. I want you to leave voluntarily because your safety at home is assured. There was a time when we used to receive an average of 1,000 refugees daily, but the number dropped to less than 100, and we now don’t receive even a single refugee, which tells you that all is now well.”
Dr Magufuli criticised organisations that were claiming that the country was still embroiled in strife.
“We all know that there are people who benefit when Burundians flee their country in droves. There are organisations raking in money in the name of helping refugees. I’m aware that there are people who lured Burundians into refugee camps in Tanzania, telling them that they would be given Sh10,000 each daily. If they have that kind of money, they should pay them once they are back home.”
It was the first time President Nkurunziza was visiting Tanzania since May 13, 2015 when General Godefroid Niyombare attempted to depose him while he was in Dar es Salaam attending an extraordinary summit of the East African Community heads of state, which discussed the situation in Burundi.
Mr Nkurunziza attempted to fly to Burundi on the same day, but failed since rebel soldiers had seized the airport in Bujumbura. He successfully made it back home a day later after soldiers loyal to him regained control of most of the capital.
The failed coup was followed by bloody protests, claims of torture and killing of politicians and high-ranking soldiers.
Yesterday the two leaders and their aides also discussed ways of strengthening economic relations.
President Magufuli hinted that they also talked about the possibility of extending the proposed standard gauge railway from Tabora to Bujumbura, and that funds for the project were being sought.
“Burundi needs to be strengthened economically. There is no point in being neighbours if we don’t grow together. We need to boost the volume of our trade significantly,” he said.
President Nkurunzinza took the opportunity to welcome Tanzanian businesspeople to his country.
“There are a number of business opportunities in Burundi. We need to work together for the benefit of our people.”
President Nkurunzinza and his entourage arrived at Lamela grounds in Ngara shortly after 11am, and received a 21-gun salute before he inspected a guard of honour mounted by members of the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF).
Mr Nkurunziza was accompanied by his top lieutenants, including the ministers of finance, defence, East African Community cooperation and internal security.
Tanzania’s delegation included Cabinet ministers Nchemba, Dr Husein Mwinyi (Defence), Dr Philip Mpango (Finance and Planning), Prof Makame Mbarawa (Works, Transport and Communication) and Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation deputy minister Susan Kolimba.