(New York) - The Tanzanian and Ugandan governments should ensure that refugees living in camps due to close on June 30 and July 31, 2009 are not forcibly returned to their home countries and are immediately given full information about their options, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch also urged both governments to avoid repeating Rwanda’s unlawful forced return of up to 504 refugees to Burundi at gunpoint on June 2, after it closed its last refugee camp for Burundians.
Tanzania, with 36,000 Burundian refugees, and Uganda, with 17,000 Rwandan refugees, have signed agreements with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to facilitate the safe return of refugees who wish to go home, and to find alternatives for those who do not. However, despite the looming camp closing deadlines of June 30 for Tanzania and July 31 for Uganda, neither government has publicly explained the alternatives. Instead, both have threatened the refugees with forced return, saying that after the closures the remaining refugees will be "stripped" of their refugee status and treated as "illegal immigrants." Both positions would be unlawful under international refugee law.