Tanzania plans to forcibly repatriate tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants from its northeastern Kagera region to address deteriorating security in the area, presidential spokesman Salvator Rweyemamu said.
Those who will be sent back, mostly Rwandans, failed to leave voluntarily after President Jakaya Kikwete on July 29 gave a two-week ultimatum for them to return to their countries or regularize their stay, Rweyemamu said in a phone interview today from Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital. Burundians and Ugandans are among those who will be repatriated, he said.
The exercise will begin “soon and won’t stop until all illegal immigrants are gone,” Rweyemamu said. “Those who want to stay, are welcome to register and make their stay legal.”
Tanzania is home to an estimated 275,790 refugees, most of whom are concentrated in the Kagera region that borders Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. The majority of undocumented immigrants in the area are from Rwanda, Rweyemamu said.
The planned repatriations come amid a dispute between Tanzania and Rwanda that began when Kikwete in May urged Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s government to negotiate with the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR. Rwanda accuses the Congo-based group of being complicit in the 1994 genocide in which at least 800,000 people died and has rejected talks with the renegades. Kagame last month described Kikwete’s suggestion as “utter nonsense.”
The repatriation program isn’t connected to the dispute between the two countries, Rweyemamu said. “The president’s directive came after his tour of the Kagera region, where residents reported deteriorating security due to an increase in armed robbery, with perpetrators being illegal immigrants,” he said.
“Issues between Rwanda and Tanzania will be resolved diplomatically,” the secretariat of the East African Community said on its Twitter account yesterday, citing Secretary-General Richard Sezibera. The trading bloc’s members include Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
As of yesterday, 10,672 undocumented immigrants had voluntarily left, with 6,309 heading to Rwanda, 4,063 to Burundi and 300 to Uganda, crossing with at least 6,000 heads of cattle, according to Rweyemamu. “We have so far recovered 60 guns from those crossing,” he said.
Kagera, with a population of 2.4 million people, is estimated to have 52,000 undocumented immigrants, Rweyemamu said, citing a 2012 population census.
Tanzania received hundreds of thousands of refugees in the 1980s and 90s from its neighbors because of the political instability, 800,000 of them from Rwanda during the genocide, according to Rweyemamu.
“Many have applied and become Tanzanian citizens, and in President Kikwete’s time, 160,000 have got citizenship,” he said. “Some have declined the offer of citizenship and continue to live here illegally. It is those that we want to leave.”
In September 2006, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo signed an agreement to establish the Central Corridor Transit Transport Facilitation Agency, to facilitate transit transport from the Port of Dar es Salaam to destinations in the hinterland.
The port handled 68 percent of landlocked Rwanda’s trade volumes last year, compared with 41 percent five years ago, according to data provided by Trademark East Africa, the Nairobi-based organization that promotes regional trade.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo didn’t answer her mobile phone when Bloomberg called her twice seeking comment.
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