Britain and Tanzania have been in discussions about Britain’s asylum and refugee problems. Liberal Democrat party leader Charles Kennedy brought the matter into the public domain on February 25 when he asked the Prime Minister what was going on and expressed the fear that the proposal could lead to ‘an international trade in displaced people’. Tony Blair then explained that the idea was for asylum claims to be processed nearer to the country of origin. It would be a pilot scheme to explore how Britain could help process asylum applications which arose in Tanzania. “We have been talking to the Tanzanian Government about various immigration issues, including East Africans falsely claiming to be Somalis in the hope of securing British residency” he said.

In Dar es Salaam, the Government immediately confirmed that consultations over Britain’s request to set up a camp in Tanzania for screening Somali asylum seekers were going on. Home Affairs Minister Ramadhani Mapuri quoted in the East African said: “The government wishes to acknowledge a request made by the Government of the United Kingdom to settle Somali refugees in Tanzania. Internal consultations among stakeholders within the Government of Tanzania are in progress but the Government is yet to give its response.” He added, “Any response must take full consideration of the magnitude, multitude and the entire range of socio-political implications for Tanzania including the fact that Tanzanians are already overwhelmed by the burden of refugees”.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Tanzania is host to more than 600,000 refugees mainly from Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia. 470,000 of these are in camps, and another 170,000 are living independently in the Tabora and Rukwa regions.

Mr Mapuri added: “It was brought to the Tanzanian Government’s attention that there are some alleged Tanzanian nationals in the UK who pose and continue to live in the UK as Somali refugees….Tanzania believes that, should any Tanzanian nationals posing as Somali refugees in the UK be identified, they should not be expelled, but returned to Tanzania under normal procedures that respect human dignity.”

The ‘East African’ said that Tanzania was one of the major transit points for asylum seekers from the Great Lakes region trying to get into Europe due to its lax immigration scrutiny. Once they arrived in the UK, most of them identified themselves as Somalis seeking asylum due to the current turmoil in Somalia. People from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia itself were trying to enter Britain through Tanzania. Britain has said that it is prepared to help Tanzania with cash support for its growing refugee problem.

Somalis made up the largest number of refugee applicants to Britain last year but the numbers are still tiny (around 6,000 in 2003) compared with the number of refugees Tanzania has to host.
Peter Kallaghe, Director of Communications for Tanzanian President Mkapa, told the Guardian that there had been discussions between the two governments over the issue but that it was sensitive. Any decision would not be taken very easily,” he said. The Guardian report said that a camp in Tanzania could offer a processing point for Somalis seeking asylum as well as a home for failed asylum seekers.

Tanzanian Affairs has been told that the British Home Office is planning to send a ‘scoping’ visit to Tanzania in the near future to take the discussions further.

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