Stakeholders hail Nyerere for steering open door policy for refugees

AS the country commemorates 23rd anniversary of the death of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, stakeholders have hailed the Father of the Nation for steering open door policy for refugees to settle in Tanzania.

They argued that his resolve in stressing for justice across the globe, has earned Tanzania respect and enabled those displaced especially from the Great Lakes countries to live in the country peacefully.

Soon after achieving independence in 1961, Tanzania established a reputation as one of the most hospitable countries of asylum in Africa, if not the world.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the country hosted tens of thousands of refugees fleeing both wars of national liberation in Southern Africa and post-colonial conflict in neighbouring states, especially Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

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Tanzania provided refugees with land and they were encouraged to achieve self-sufficiency through the establishment of refugee settlements. Arguably the hallmark of Tanzania’s open asylum policy during this period was the mass naturalisation of 36,000 Rwandan refugees in December 1980.

According to a Lecturer at the School of Law, University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Prof Khoti Kamanga, Tanzania’s foreign policy under President Nyerere was guided by Pan-Africanism and support for liberation movements. He said that such belief still stands todate.

During that time under Mwalimu, Prof Kamanga said, the policy opened doors for the country to host a number of refugee populations actively opposed to oppressive regimes in their countries of origin.

“We had to open our doors for freedom fighters especially those in the southern part of Africa—Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. This remains as a symbol of justice that Mwalimu Nyerere stood for,” he said.

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Prof Kamanga said this while presenting a topic on ‘Mwalimu Nyerere on Forced Displacement’ at a meeting with editors that was organised by Dignity Kwanza in Dar es Salaam yesterday, as part of activities to celebrate the life of the late Mwalimu Nyerere.

He further said that the country also opened doors for hundreds of refugees who were fleeing internal wars especially from the Great Lakes region, saying to date the country has a total of 250,000 refugees settled in various camps in Kigoma, Tabora, Shinyanga, Katavi and Kagera regions.

He said as the country plays host to the big number of refugees, there is still the need to reshape the refugees’ narratives, insisting that some members of the public have a wrong notion about them, with some considering the refugees as criminals.

“Yes, there are those with bad elements of criminals in refugee camps but not all of them…it is important that we continue to respect their plight because these, are the people, who have forcefully been displaced from the countries of their origin,” he said.

On his part, former Kasulu Member of Parliament, who also once served as Deputy Minister for Information, Culture and Sports, Mr Daniel Nsanzugwako suggested that it was important for the country to integrate refugees, who have stayed in the country for the past four decades and their records remained clean.

He said from the start, the settlement of refugees in Tanzania was guided by the concepts of permanence and productivity, stemming no doubt, from the principles on which, President Nyerere hoped to develop his country.

It may also be argued that Tanzania’s open asylum policy was encouraged by the significant external financial and technical support it received for the refugee settlements through the Tripartite Partnership Model.

Established in 1964, this approach formalised a tripartite agreement between the government of Tanzania, UNHCR and the Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service (TCRS) for the management of settlements for refugees from Rwanda and Burundi.

Under this agreement, Tanzania provided the land for settlements, staff support, basic tools, access to community services and a waiver on import duty for goods related to the settlements.

In turn, TCRS assumed responsibility for managing the settlements, while UNHCR provided the necessary funding and technical advice.

Between 1963 and 1979, 13 settlements were managed through such tripartite agreements, hosting an estimated 182,000 refugees.

The three settlements that were the focus of discussions on durable solutions for Burundians in 2007 – Katumba, Mishamo and Ulyankulu – were all established through the Tripartite Partnership Model.

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