Burundian refugees in Tanzania face new pressure to go home

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Burundian refugees gather on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village in Kigoma region in western Tanzania, as they wait for MV Liemba to transport them to Kigoma township, May 17, 2015. REUTERS

Burundian refugees in Tanzania say they fear being forced to return to their country now that a new president has taken power and invited them home.

Burundian refugees gather on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village in Kigoma region in western Tanzania, as they wait for MV Liemba to transport them to Kigoma township, May 17, 2015. /REUTERS

Hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled during the bloody political turmoil that followed former President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term in 2015.

Nkurunziza decided not to run again in May’s election and died days later in what the government called a heart attack.

New President Evariste Ndayishimiye is now being watched closely for any breaks with his predecessor, whose rule slid into repression in its final years. At his swearing-in, Ndayishimiye declared that “Burundians should feel free to speak out. Burundians should be able to listen to each other, but outsiders should not dictate what to do.”

He invited all those in exile to return and build a new nation.

Shortly afterward, Tanzania’s director of the department of refugees visited camps for Burundians in western Tanzania where close to 200,000 remain, refugees told The Associated Press.

“He carried one message: Go back to your country, there is peace now,” refugees said.

They said the official, Sudi Mwakibasi, urged refugees to take up the new president’s offer and go home and participate in the country’s development.

A coalition of refugees’ human rights defenders denounced the Tanzanian official’s position.

“We are not assured by the new government team,” said Leopold Sharangabo, the coalition’s vice president. He noted the new appointment in Burundi of a prime minister, Alain Guillaume Bunyoni, who is under U.S. sanctions for his alleged role in rights abuses. He called the appointment an insult to refugees.

(With input from AP)

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