More returnees received as Tz clamps down on Rwandans

More than 500 Rwandans who had lived in Tanzania for years yesterday arrived at the Rusumo border post in Rwanda, leaving behind their families and properties in mainly Karagwe region.
A Rwandan family returns from Tanzania yesterday. Many Rwandans crossed the Rusumo border on the final day of the deadline set by the Tanzanian governent.   Saturday Times/ Timothy Kis....
A Rwandan family returns from Tanzania yesterday. Many Rwandans crossed the Rusumo border on the final day of the deadline set by the Tanzanian governent. Saturday Times/ Timothy Kis....

More than 500 Rwandans who had lived in Tanzania for years yesterday arrived at the Rusumo border post in Rwanda, leaving behind their families and properties in mainly Karagwe region.

Yesterday’s arrivals pushed the number of such returnees to 1,000 after Tanzanian authorities gave those they described as ‘illigal immigrants’ two weeks to leave the country.

The deadline passed yesterday and it remains unclear what the fate of those who were unable to beat it would be.

The evictees told Saturday Times that Tanzanian security personnel, including the army and police, as well as neighbours were combing the communities ordering everyone they perceive to be of Rwandan origin out of the country.

Some of the victims had lived in the east African country for more than 50 years.

Tanzanian authorities claim they are targeting those without ‘valid residential documents’ but some of those affected claim they had all the necessary documents – some alleged security agents had confiscated and destroyed them.

At the Rusumo border post yesterday visibly distressed mothers, children and elderly men arrived with mattresses, clothes and other household belongings.

Most of them said they were not given a chance to sell off their properties, especially land and cattle.

They said they were being targeted as Rwandans though Tanzanian officials at the border said the decision applied to all illegal immigrants in the country.

Some of the returnees had intermarried with Tanzanians but they were not spared either.

“I have left my seven children behind. My parents fled from Rwanda in 1959, I grew up in Tanzania and I got married to a Tanzanian. Yet they have not been considerate, they picked me out in the family and asked me to leave simply because I have Rwandan roots. This is so unfair and inhumane,” a weeping Mukarugwiza Kabudensiya said.

The 60-year old, who was evicted from Karagwe region, said she was too afraid for her children too. She said she cannot bare the pain of being separated from her family in a matter of days.

Kabudensiya knows no relative in Rwanda.

According to the returnees, it was total chaos during the expulsion, with security forces and locals killing their cattle and threatening whoever planned to stand in their way.

It also turned out that some of the victims are actually Tanzanians by birth.

Helping returnees

“My father is a Tanzanian from the Banyambo tribe and my mother is Rwandan. My father died and I have never been to Rwanda before. I don’t know why I am being persecuted by my compatriots,” said a 23-year old man, who only identified himself as Emanuel.

He spoke in Kiswahili and does not understand Kinyarwanda.

At the border, officials from the Ministry for Disaster Management and Refugees Affairs, the Eastern Province and other partners worked the whole day yesterday as more people continued to arrive.

 Emanuel Maherane, a senior official at the Tanzanian immigration office at the border, said the eviction targeted all illegal migrants, and not only Rwandans.

“Their residence permits expired and they have no right to remain in Tanzania. We have expelled Burundians, Ugandans, Rwandans, and even whites,” the official claimed.

 He said his government started conducting a survey to ascertain all the illegal settlers since 2003 and it was the right time to push them out. “This is internal issue, we don’t need to inform anybody. It’s a Tanzanian affair.”

Maherane added: “Whether you have been around for 70 years, whether you are married or not, our laws are clear, it’s not about how much time you have lived in Tanzania or who you are married to.”

The returnees said they were caught unawares and that their eviction came immediately after Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete visited the region a few days ago.

Emanuel Mpakaniye, a returnee, dismissed the suggestion that only illegal immigrants had been expelled.

 “I had a residential permit and all the other necessary documents but I was banished,” he said. 

On the Rwandan side of the border, officials and volunteers were putting up tents to help resettle the returnees in Kiyanzi transit centre, in Eastern Province.

“We are providing those who are returning basic needs like water, food and temporary shelter. We are also transporting those who happen to have relatives in different parts of the country,” Jean Claude Rwahama, the director of refugee affairs in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, said.

He said government would provide shelter to those without relatives in the country.

It is expected that an estimated 20,000 people, may be on their way to Rwanda.

On Thursday, Foreign affairs minister and Government spokesperson, Louise Mushikiwabo, reassured Tanzanians living in Rwanda to feel at home despite the latest developments.

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