The New York-based Human Rights Watch published on July 7 an informative but highly critical 36-page report under the title ‘Refugees in Tanzania Confined Unfairly’. The report said, inter alia, that tens of thousands of refugees, some of whom had lived in Tanzania for more than two decades, had been rounded up by the Tanzanian army and confined to camps for the past year in the western part of the country. ‘The army separated the refugees from their families and stripped them of their belongings in an indiscriminate response to security risks from outside the country’ the report said. The army conducted sweeps largely in late 1997 and early 1998 on the grounds that it was necessary to protect Tanzanian citizens living near the Burundian border. The Burundian government had alleged that Burundian Hutu rebels based in Tanzania were engaged in arms trafficking and cross-border incursions; it threatened to act if the Tanzanian government did not. With little or no notice the Tanzanian army then swept through villages close to the border apprehending thousands of refugees from the homes in which they had settled and developed new lives, and sent them to refugee camps. They had lost personal belongings and their schools and community institutions had been closed.
The government said that the Refugees Act stipulates that refugees must be taken care of in a particular area and not mixed with citizens. Those complaining of loss of property and separation from their families had been asked to submit their claims but none had done so.
By contrast, at the beginning of June a visiting French delegation praised the government for the care being given to refugees in Kigoma.
And on July 14 the Guardian revealed that Tanzania (and the Cote d’Ivoire) had been made the first recipients of the 1999 OAU Medal for ‘Outstanding Service to Refugees and Displaced Persons in Africa’.
At the budget session in parliament on July 9 Home Affairs Minister Ali Ameir Mohamed said that the 20,000 refugees remaining from the original 500,000 who came from Ruanda, most of whom went home in 1996, must now also return home. Many were still in Ngara pretending to be Burundians. Tanzania still had 800,000 refugees from eight countries, mostly from the Congo and Burundi.