UNHCR apologises over Tanzania ‘military uniforms’ debacle

Sunday February 10 2019

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi meets with refugees at Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, Tanzania in February 2019. PHOTO | UNHCR 

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The United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees has apologised to Tanzania after it sent a consignment of clothes to Burundian refugees in the country containing garments similar to the Tanzania People’s Defence Force’s uniform.

Tanzania seized and destroyed clothes destined for Mtendeli and Nduta camps to forestall a diplomatic spat with Bujumbura.

UNHCR Commissioner General Filippo Grandi visited President John Magufuli at State House Dar es Salaam to apologise over the debacle and held discussions regarding refugees and the government’s co-operation with the organisation.

“One Japanese company donated garments for our workers. Unfortunately these clothes resembled military uniforms and we received them to distribute to the refugee camps,” Mr Grandi explained. “This was a mistake, so we ask for forgiveness and promise it will never happen again.”

Earlier this year, Tanzania Minister for Home Affairs, Kangi Lugola reported that 1,325 of the imported garments similar to the country’s military uniforms were confiscated at Nduta camp, and 622 others at the Mtendeli refugee camp in Kigoma region and burnt.

President Magufuli accepted the apology.

UNHCR pledged its continued co-operation and anticipation to fund expenses of refugees and surrounding communities in Tanzania.

President Magufuli said that, for the past 10 years, the UNHCR has been promising a fund for refugees in Tanzania but is yet to institute one.

The president said there were 350,000 refugees in his country living in various camps. Of these, 40,000 are from Burundi. The president confirmed that all refugees have access to social services and infrastructure.

“Tanzania has been receiving refugees from various countries facing political instability and granted them asylum, permitting them to use the country’s resources regardless of sometimes not receiving funds from international organisations,” President Magufuli said.

Mr Grandi commended Tanzania for its commitment to hosting the refugees over the years.

He pledged that the UNHCR will fulfil its pledge to provide humanitarian aid and equip the security services as they attend to refugees.

In 2017, Tanzania and Burundi committed to voluntary repatriation of refugees and promised to assist those that wished to go back home. Between January to November 2018, a total of 41,773 refugees were helped to voluntarily repatriate to Burundi from Tanzania in 82 convoys.