Tanzania: Last Burundian refugees set to return home

Bishop Protase Rugambwa

Bishop Protase Rugambwa

The last Burundian refugees in Tanzania are preparing to return home – ending an humanitarian crisis that began more than 30 years ago.

Bishop Protase Rugambwa of Kigoma Diocese in the west of Tanzania told Aid to the Church in Need of his hopes for the future after United Nations reports stated that Burundian refugees – who numbered half a million just a decade ago – have fallen to

Now the government in Tanzania expects to close the last remaining refugee camp before the end of September.

Bishop Rugambwa spoke of how for years the diocese considered support for the refugees to be an essential part of its pastoral work.

The bishop said: “We have tried to accompany them and help them spiritually, to seek peace and change their mentality away from hatred towards reconciliation.”

Bishop Rugambwa described how last month he visited Mtabilia, the last remaining camp where he confirmed candidates prepared by the Holy Ghost Fathers, (Spiritans).

There has been a steady flow of Burundian refugees into Tanzania between the mid-1960s and early 1990s. About 300,000 are reported to have fled during the mass slaughter that occurred as part of ethnic struggles in 1972.

Since 2002, when it was first considered safe for the refugees to return home, more than 400,000 have returned. But not everyone wished to return and last month 3,500 Burundians were granted Tanzanian citizenship.

The Holy Ghost Fathers are one of the religious orders, along with the White Fathers, doing pastoral work in the diocese.

Bishop Rugambwa said: “You can be doing pastoral work, but it obliges you to enter into the social area, and found schools and so on.” He added that the establishment of schools and hospitals had been “traditional areas of activity” in the diocese.

Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting Kigoma diocese by providing stipends for priests to offer Masses for the charity’s benefactors.

For more information see: www.acnuk.org

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