BUJUMBURA - At least 25,000 Burundian refugees living in Tanzania have been forcibly repatriated over the past month, a UN official said Thursday, describing a "dramatic" humanitarian situation.
Close to a million refugees fled from Burundi to stable Tanzania when civil war broke out in 1993, and most returned voluntarily after the conflict in their country ended in 2006.
But patience appears to have run out in Tanzania, which has hosted millions of refugees over the past decades from conflicts across Africa's Great Lakes region, and authorities have been accelerating expulsions of refugees from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Tanzania views the refugees as illegal immigrants.
"It's difficult to estimate exactly the number of Burundians already expelled from Tanzania, but there are at least 20,000 over the past month and probably between 20,000 and 30,000," Catherine Huck of the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) told AFP.
She said trucks carrying hundreds of refugees were crossing the border each day, with many of those expelled without access to shelter or water.
"The Burundian government must organise convoys to bring the expelled persons back to their villages. The needs are enormous, and the international community must get involved," she said.
The expulsions coincide with a diplomatic tussle between Tanzania, exasperated by the continuous flood of refugees from the Great Lakes region and engaged in a UN force in the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern Kivu region, and Rwanda, which denies charges of being a key backer of one of the main Congolese rebel groups.