Go home, Tanzanian President tells Burundian refugees

FILE PHOTO: Burundian refugees get off from a bus which transported them from Tanzania to neighbouring Burundi, as part of a repartition program, at the Nyabitare transit site, in the Gisuru commune, Ruyigi province, Burundi, October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana/File Photo

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Refugees in Tanzania must go home, President John Magufuli said on Friday, a week after officials began mass repatriations of Burundians despite concerns that they may face political persecution.

Tanzanian officials have said that all repatriations will be voluntary but Magufuli warned in his speech that refugees in Tanzania, most of whom are Burundians, cannot stay indefinitely and will not be granted citizenship.

“Go back to your home ... don’t insist on staying in Tanzania as refugees or expect citizenship while Burundi is now stable,” Magufuli said during a rally in Katavi region near a large refugee camp in northwestern Tanzania.

“Even Jesus ran to Egypt as a refugee ... and returned to his land to preach. Why do you want to stay here permanently and not return to your country?” he said.

Burundians made up the majority of the 280,000 refugees registered in Tanzania at the end of 2018, according to the United Nations.

Hundreds of Burundians have been killed in clashes with security forces since 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third, disputed term in office.

Burundi and Tanzania agreed in August to repatriate nearly 200,000 refugees who had sought refuge in Tanzania.

The repatriations started last week, with some refugees expressing fears they might be forced home despite assurances from both governments and the United Nations that would not happen. [nL5N26O4HG]

Burundi is due to hold elections next year. The security services still continue to torture, rape and murder people perceived as opposing Nkurunziza, the U.N. reported last month. [nL5N25V639]

Reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala; Writing and editing by Giulia Paravicini, William Maclean