Did the UNHCR distribute ‘military uniforms’ to Burundian refugees in Tanzania? Get the full scope of the story.

The news of the United Nations Refugees Agency( UNHCR) of distributing clothes which were dubbed as ‘military uniforms’ risks soaring the already heated tensions between the Burundi government and this UN Refugees Agency. 

The said distribution occurred in the last quarter of the 2018 year. These clothes were distributed to both Burundian and Congolese refugees in Tanzania.

THE BIG PICTURE: The UN Refugees Agency, UNHRC, has been at loggerheads with Bujumbura, especially since 2015 when a number of Burundian refugees took refuge in Burundi’s neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo. Bujumbura and UNHCR do not see eye to eye on the number of Burundian refugees, as Bujumbura states that the UN Refugees Agency ‘blow up’ figures of refugees in order to maintain their prestigious jobs. UNHCR is also accused by both Tanzania and Burundi of not ‘well facilitating’ the repatriation of the Burundian refugees in Tanzania.

When the news of UNHCR distributing these ‘military uniforms’ to refugees broke out in mainstream media, the UNHCR released a statement, on Friday, January 2019 saying that it would proceed with ‘ pre-screening procedures for clothing donated to refugees’.

According to a report by Xinhua, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement that the decision to reinforce the pre-screening of clothing distributed to refugees was aimed at preventing a repetition of last year’s scenario where it allowed the distribution of clothing items to refugees that were deemed inappropriate.

UNHCR says that clothes were distributed from a ‘private donor’.

In the last quarter of last year, the UNHCR distributed some 1.5 million pieces of clothing received from a private donor to refugees in Nduta and Mtendeli camps in western Tanzania and to members of the host community living nearby in Kibondo and Kakonko districts in Kigoma region.

Xinhua reports that during the first mass distribution, which took place in the presence of local authorities, the UNHCR and its partners identified a number of donated clothing items that were deemed inappropriate, including some 1,900 pieces of camouflage-styled clothing for men and boys.

Since this type of clothing was not permitted for civilian use under Tanzanian law, the statement said, the UNHCR immediately removed all the unsuitable pieces and stored them securely.

The ‘military uniforms’ dubbed as ‘unsuitable clothes‘.

“On Dec. 31, 2018, these unsuitable clothes were handed over to local authorities upon their request,” the statement said.

Investigation launched.

In January, Tanzanian authorities launched an investigation, following media reports that these items were seized in Nduta and Mtendeli camps prior to their distribution to refugees.

“While waiting for the findings of the investigation, the UNHCR stands ready to support the government in its efforts to clarify the way these clothing items have been handled,” the statement said.

The UNHCR “continues to work closely with the Tanzanian government and other partner organizations in providing international protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers in the country,” the statement added.

Bujumbura reacted angrily.

This news of distributing military uniforms to Burundian refugees in Tanzania has angered Burundi government. Some key officials figures have manifested their indignance against the UN Refugees Agency. Jacques Bigirimana(FNL) and Keffa Nibizi( FRODEBU- Iragi rya Ndadaye) protested against this UN Refugee Agency move.

The Ruling party CNDD-FDD’s Secretary-General, Evariste Ndayishimiye said was saddened by the news that refugees were given military clothes.

The ruling party says the government needs to take to court the UNHCR after it was revealed that military uniforms were given to refugees in Tanzanian camps.

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