Nearly 600 Burundian refugees head home as mass repatriation starts

By Nuzulack Dausen

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – Nearly 600 refugees left Tanzania to return to their homes in neighboring Burundi on Thursday, the United Nations said – the first batch in a mass repatriation that some migrants fear could force them back against their will.

Hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled a surge of political violence in 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third disputed term in office and opponents accused him of breaching the constitution.

A U.N. Commission on Burundi reported last month that there was risk of a fresh wave of atrocities as the landlocked state approached a 2020 election with its political crisis unresolved.

But Burundi and Tanzania agreed in August to start repatriating 200,000 refugees, saying that conditions in Burundi had improved.

A Tanzanian government official and the United Nations said all of Thursday’s returns had been voluntary.

“All refugees who had registered to return home voluntarily from all camps gathered at Nduta camp and departed from there,” said Athuman Igwe, responsible for coordinating refugees affairs in Kigoma, western Tanzania.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said 590 Burundian refugees had returned on flights that it had organized with the U.N.’s International Organization of Migration (IOM).

It said it had not promoted the repatriation program but was ready to help anyone who wanted to go back.

“We urge the governments of Tanzania and Burundi to respect their commitments to uphold international obligations and ensure that any refugee returns remain voluntary and that no refugee or asylum seeker is returned to Burundi against their will,” it added in a statement.

Some refugees have expressed fears that they might be forcibly returned to Burundi after Tanzania’s Home Affairs Minister Kangi Lugola said in a video posted to Twitter in August that Tanzania would send home “all Burundians” because “Burundi is peaceful”.

(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana; editing by Katharine Houreld and Andrew Heavens)

Death toll reaches 100 in Tanzania ferry disaster, hundreds feared missing

Rescue workers are seen at the scene where a ferry overturned in Lake Victoria, Tanzania September 21, 2018, in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV/via REUTERS

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – More than 100 bodies have been retrieved after a ferry sank on Lake Victoria, Tanzanian state radio reported on Friday, and hundreds more were still feared missing as rescuers searched for survivors from daybreak on the morning after the disaster.

Radio TBC Taifa reported the latest toll from the sinking of the ferry MV Nyerere, which capsized on Thursday afternoon just a few meters from the dock on Ukerewe, the lake’s biggest island, which is part of Tanzania.

Initial estimates suggested that the ferry was carrying more than 300 people.

Thirty-seven people had been rescued from the sea, Jonathan Shana, the regional police commander for the port of Mwanza on the south coast of the lake told Reuters by phone on Friday.

Shana said more rescuers had joined the operation when it resumed at daylight on Friday. He did not give exact numbers.

The precise number of those aboard the ferry when it capsized was hard to establish since crew and equipment had been lost, officials said on Thursday.

Tanzania has been hit by several major ferry disasters over the years. At least 500 people were killed when a ferry capsized in Lake Victoria in 1996. In 2012, 145 people died when a ferry sank off the shore of Tanzania’s Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar.

(Reporting by Nuzulack Dausen; Writing by Duncan Miriri and Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Peter Graff)

Tanzania Church Bombed At First Mass

tanzaniachurchbombingA bomber killed three and wounded at least 50 when he set off his device during the first ever service at a Catholic church in the Tanzanian city of Arusha.

The bombing marks the latest in a line of terrorists attacks against Christians in the country by Islamic extremists.

The Vatican’s ambassador to Tanzania and the archibishop of Arusha were on site during the attack but are reportedly unhurt. Continue reading