East Africa: Pushback practices and their impact on the human rights of migrants and refugees

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL SUBMISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS (UN) SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF MIGRANTS, FEBRUARY 2021
In response to the Questionnaire of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants on “pushback practices and their impact on the human rights of migrants”, Amnesty International is pleased to provide the following input on select patterns of unlawful pushbacks of migrants and refugees in East Africa region.
1.1 TANZANIA (QUESTIONS 1, 4, 5, 6)
The refugee environment in Tanzania is governed by the Refugee Act of 1998 (hereafter the Act) and the 2003 National Refugee Policy (NRP). Section 4 of the Act provides that the Tanzania Government can recognise refugees on an individual basis or group basis. Refugee status determination is conducted by the National Eligibility Committee (NEC). If an applicant is dissatisfied with the decision of the NEC, Section 9 of the Act provides that they can appeal to the Minister seven days from the date of receiving the decision. The Act provides that the decision by the Minister to grant or deny the appeal is final.
Section 34 of the Act provides that asylum seekers and refugees shall have the right at any time to return voluntarily to their country of nationality. It also prohibits any action that prevents asylum seekers or refugees to return to their country of origin without due process.
Since 2017, restrictions on access to territory and asylum in Tanzania have increased over time especially for Burundian refugees. In January 2017, the Tanzanian authorities ended prima facie recognition of refugees from Burundi, meaning that all asylum seekers coming from Burundi would from then on have their cases individually assessed.
By July 2018, the Government of Tanzania had closed all reception centres at border entry points from Burundi – both restricting access to the country and the possibility of claiming asylum. This affected 19 reception points which were previously used by Burundian and Congolese asylum seekers. New arrivals from Burundi and Congo could not register. Burundian refugees who had been supported by UNHCR over the years to return to Burundi, but were forced to flee again, were unable to register with the Tanzanian authorities to seek asylum and have their asylum claim assessed individually.
In addition, the asylum claims processed by the government’s National Eligibility Committee (NEC) showed a high rejection rate.
Tanzania has not only restricted the eight seek asylum, but also the freedom of movement and economic opportunities for Burundian refugees, making their stay in the country difficult. Those who venture outside of the Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendeli refugee camps to meet their daily needs have at times been arrested and detained by Tanzanian security forces.
Government officials increasingly made statements that pressure refugees and asylum-seekers to return to their country of origin, especially the Burundian refugees. The President John Magufuli and other officials have told Burundian refugees publicly to return to their country of origin. In mid-July 2018, senior Tanzanian officials visited the camps and urged refugees to sign up for voluntary return. Refugees claimed that they were informed that return was the only available solution for them.
In August 2018, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, urged Tanzania authorities to ensure Burundian refugees’ returns are voluntary and based on individual choice. UNHCR cautioned the Government not to directly or indirectly to influence the refugees’ decision on return.
On 24 August 2019, Tanzania’s Minister for Home Affairs Kangi Lugola and Burundi’s Minister of Interior Pascal Barandagiye signed a confidential agreement, which was reviewed by Amnesty International, to step up the repatriation of Burundian refugees with or without their consent. The two ministers visited Nduta and Mtendeli refugee camps in the Kigoma region on 25 August where they announced that the returns would start on 1 October. Tanzania’s Minister for Home Affairs Kangi Lugola also had interviews with media houses where he reiterated calls that Burundian refugees will be sent back whether they want to or not.
International human rights organisations have also recorded incidents where asylum-seekers and refugees were pushed back. On October 15, 2019, Tanzanian authorities unlawfully coerced more than 200 Burundian nationals into returning to Burundi.
The restriction of the possibility to enjoy international protection for Burundian refugees was also compounded by the closure and destruction of markets in the camps, restrictions on their business activities, access to services and freedom of movement. Reported cases of enforced disappearances in some refugee camps compromised the security of the camps and increasingly added pressure for refugees to leave.
In response to COVID-19 pandemic, Tanzania imposed a total border closure and suspended international flights for about 3 months. The total border closure decided by the Tanzanian government continued to reinforce the restrictions on access to asylum in place since 2017. This drove many refugees and asylum seekers from Burundi to use unofficial border crossing points to enter Tanzania where there is no provision for identification, documentation and health screening for new arrivals.
Comments from government officials directed at NGOs have created an environment of fear for humanitarian organisations. NGOs supporting asylum seekers and refugees are facing a more restrictive climate, especially following comments from Tanzania’s home affairs minister at the end of August 2019. Minister Lugola warned that any individual or NGO working on refugee issues would “face the wrath of President John Pombe [Magufuli]” if they opposed the government’s repatriation plans.

Source: Amnesty International

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