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UN opposes forced repatriation of refugees to Burundi

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AP) — The United Nations refugee agency is urging the governments of Tanzania and Burundi not to forcibly repatriate Burundian refugees sheltering in Tanzania. Although security generally has improved in Burundi since violence erupted after the 2015 presidential polls, "conditions in Burundi are not currently conducive to promote returns," UNHCR said in an e-mailed statement.

"We call upon the governments of both Tanzania and Burundi's commitment to uphold international obligations and ensure that any returns are voluntary in line with the tripartite agreement signed in March of 2018," the statement said. "UNHCR urges States to ensure that no refugee is returned to Burundi against their will, and that measures are taken to make conditions in Burundi more conducive for refugees returns, including confidence building efforts and incentives for those who have chosen to go home."

Tanzanian authorities said Tuesday they had reached an agreement with Burundi to send all Burundian refugees back home from October 1. About 400,000 Burundian refugees have sought asylum elsewhere in the region, according to UNHCR. An estimated 200,000 of them are sheltering in Burundi.

Tanzanian authorities have expressed frustration over what they say is the slow pace with which the UN is repatriating refugees back to Burundi. Nearly 75,000 refugees have voluntarily returned to Burundi since December 2017.

Most of the Burundian refugees live in camps in the northwestern region of Kigoma. "They're still more refugees who have registered for voluntary repatriation but have not been returned, thus fueling violence in camps," Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Maganga, Kigoma regional commissioner, told AP on Wednesday.

Tanzania's government has formed a committee to advise on whether to apply the government's own procedures or reconsider arrangements by the UNHCR, he said. Burundi's government has long insisted the country is now safe for all Burundians.

Yet hundreds still flee Burundi each month, according to UHHCR, which is urging governments in the region to keep borders open.

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