Why has Tanzania deported thousands to Rwanda?

  • Published
A camp for people expelled from Rwanda (August 2013)
Image caption,
A camp has been established for those expelled from Tanzania

Several thousand "illegal immigrants" have been expelled from Tanzania to Rwanda in the past month, which some are linking to a recent row between the two governments, as the BBC's Prudent Nsengiyumva reports.

With a football made from banana leaves, dozens of children are playing a match in a dusty field at the Kiyanzi camp in eastern Rwanda. Not far away, women are cooking beans and cassava in make-shift homes built with trees and iron sheets.

They are among around 6,600 people who have crossed the border over the past month after Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete ordered the expulsion of "illegal immigrants" and "criminals", amid heightening diplomatic tension with the Rwandan government over the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tanzania fears that Rwanda might try to destabilise it, in retaliation for its decision to send troops to DR Congo as part of a new UN force seeking to disarm and neutralise the M23 rebel group.

The M23 is widely seen as a proxy of Rwanda, though the government in Kigali denies it is backing the group or is seeking conflict with Tanzania.

Rwanda's Minister of Refugees and Disaster Management Seraphine Mukantabana suggests that the expulsions are politically motivated, pointing that many women, children and elderly people have been deported.

"I think those ones are not criminals," she told the BBC.

But some analysts deny the expulsions are linked to the diplomatic spat, pointing out that Tanzania has expelled "illegal immigrants" before - and people were not only deported to Rwanda this time, but also some 4,000 to Burundi.

Of those who have crossed into Rwanda, many are living with their friends and relatives while about 3,000 are at the camp - among them Vestine Kampundu, a pregnant woman who was born in Tanzania to a Rwandan couple who fled conflict in their home country in the 1960s.

'Husband killed'

Aged 34, she says she had never set foot in Rwanda, until she was forced to go there in August.

Image caption,
Some of those expelled are now dependent on government help

"When police came to my home, my husband was not present. They asked me to show documents and I gave them [my] birth certificate because that's what we used there but they said it was not sufficient and told us 'go back to your country'," Ms Kampundu told the BBC.

"My husband had a work permit as well but they said they wanted to see citizenship cards and only citizenship given during President Nyerere's era," she adds referring to Tanzania's first post-independence leader.

It is a story repeated by many people - that they had lived in Tanzania all their lives, but were forced to leave because they did not have citizenship cards.

"The reason we did not apply for citizenship was because local leaders used to tell us that if you are born in Tanzania and have a birth certificate, it is enough to confirm you are a citizen," Ms Kampundu says.

"Even some of those leaders don't have the documents they were asking from us to prove our citizenship. They also have birth certificates only."

Coming from a pastoralist family, she says her husband was killed, probably by cattle thieves, as he crossed the border by foot with their herd, after taking a different route.

Rwanda's Director for Refugee Affairs Jean Claude Rwahama says the government will do everything it can to help people like Ms Kampundu start a new life.

"These are Rwandans," he says.

"We've given ourselves a period of six months to make sure that these people get reintegrated in different areas of the country."

But it is not going to be easy. Rwanda is densely populated, with not enough land to go round.

Nor do many of the people at the camp see themselves as Rwandans.

"My parents died when I was eight years old. Since then I felt that I was Tanzanian. Personally I left behind four cows, 10 goats, a house and a plot of land," says Daniel Mugisha, a 33-year-old father of three.

"Life's very hard here. In Tanzania I was a farmer and lived on raising my cattle but now I live on government assistance. I do nothing. I sit the whole day waiting to be helped when I was taking care of myself."

Expressing a similar view, Ms Kampundu says: "I don't know anything about life in Rwanda. I thought I would figure out together with my husband but I don't have any answer. I'm just counting on government assistance."

Around the BBC

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.