Refugee Rights News






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November 2013

From refugee to returnee to asylum seeker: Burundian refugees struggle to find protection in the Great Lakes region

Today, the International Refugee Rights Initiative is launching a briefing paper, From refugee to returnee to asylum seeker: Burundian refugees struggle to find protection in the Great Lakes region. (link)

Based on interviews conducted in Nakivale settlement in Uganda and discussions of the findings with the government of Uganda and UNHCR, the briefing tells the story of a small number of Burundian refugees and asylum seekers who have fled into a second phase of exile. As former refugees living in Tanzania’s Mtabila refugee camp, they were forcibly returned to Burundi at the end of 2012 before fleeing once more, this time to Uganda’s Nakivale refugee settlement. Here, they report that they are eking out a precarious living, with inadequate access to humanitarian assistance and with little confidence that their claims for protection will be successful.

Their future is highly precarious, and the story they tell underscores the realities of living in a region that has failed to find a comprehensive solution to the plight of thousands of refugees. It points to a Tanzanian government fatigued with hosting refugees for decades; a Burundian government that has failed to establish and implement equitable structures for the distribution and reclamation of land and to create an inclusive polity in which opposition is tolerated; and a Ugandan government reportedly concerned about granting refugee status to asylum seekers whose status has been examined multiple times.

The wider context in which these events are unfolding is one in which repatriation and return—including forced return in the context of cessation—is being strongly emphasised across the region for protracted refugee situations to the detriment of those for whom return is not possible. As a result, while closing Mtabila camp in Tanzania and emptying it of refugees might have made it look like the problem had been resolved for the government of Tanzania and the international community, in reality it may have only displaced it elsewhere in the region.

In light of the findings, the briefing concludes with a number of recommendations.

Read the full paper here.


September 2013

Citizenship Rights and the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes: Contributions to the General Assembly dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention

The adoption of the responsibility to protect as part of the World Summit outcome document represented a historic commitment to protecting populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity (“atrocity crimes”). By affirming the responsibility of states to protect populations within their borders, and by affirming the right of the international community to take action if they fail to do so, the emerging norm frames relations between the citizen and the state as one of mutual responsibility rather than that of a dominating state imposing unlimited control over the individual.

On 11 September 2013, the UN General Assembly will convene a dialogue to discuss the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of the responsibility to protect: “The Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention”. The International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) welcomes the report is hopeful that this will form the basis of an open and useful dialogue in the UN General Assembly, and will provide a guide for states wishing to take action to prevent atrocity crimes. This paper is an effort to input IRRI’s specific expertise on the issue of citizenship as relevant to the broader issue of the operationalisation of the responsibility to protect and the systematic or structural prevention of atrocity crimes.

Read full briefing note.


May 2013

The disappearance of Sudan? Life in Khartoum for citizens without rights

The disappearance of Sudan? Life in Khartoum for citizens without rights examines the experience of people living in Khartoum State who identify themselves as being from one of the conflict-affected areas of Sudan. Based on interviews with 117 individuals, the research concentrates primarily on those from the newly independent state of South Sudan, the (now) five Darfur states, and Southern Kordofan state. For decades, marginalisation and neglect of these areas by the government of Sudan has led to conflicts which, in turn, have further exacerbated their economic, political and cultural marginalisation.

Read the full paper here.
In Arabic.


April 2013

“I can’t be a citizen if I am still a refugee”: Challenges in the naturalisation process for Burundians in Tanzania

Approximately 162,000 former Burundian refugees in Tanzania are living in legal limbo in Tanzania. Having been accepted for naturalisation and having renounced their Burundian nationality, they are now unable to get certificates confirming their new status. The situation facing this group is the subject of a paper launched by the International Refugee Rights Initiative today, I can’t be a citizen if I am still a refugee” Former Burundian refugees struggle to assert their new Tanzanian citizenship. The launch follows a discussion of the paper on 19 March at the University of Dar es Salaam attended by representatives from government, the UN, donors, NGOs and the academic community.

Building on research conducted in 2008, the new research conducted in late 2012 asked whether or not naturalisation has translated into genuine citizenship for this group of (former) refugees both legally and practically. Based on 101 interviews with former refugees, local government officials and members of the host community, as well as engagement with national government officials, the findings show that the former refugees are—as a matter of practice—caught somewhere between refugee status and the genuine assertion of their new citizenship. An unprecedented offer has become increasingly caught up in the realities of implementation and realpolitik. While it is important not to detract from the level of generosity of the government of Tanzania’s original offer, the process has revealed a disjuncture between presentation and reality and the whole undertaking appears to be in jeopardy.

With their applications for naturalisation accepted, but without documentation to that effect, the former refugees remain in a legal limbo.

Read the full paper.