Since gaining independence Tanzania has long been known for its friendly accommodations of refugees. Being bordered by eight countries makes it especially prone to refugee influxes. Specifically, its location next to Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda , all of whom have experienced periods of stability has resulted in large refugee influxes into Tanzania. According to a meeting with the UNHCR, at one point there were over 1 million refugees distributed among 10 camps in Tanzania. These camps were later closed as residents were either given the option of voluntary repatriation or citizenship in Tanzania. However, Camp Nyarugusu, which was built in 1996 to accomodate refugees fleeing the civil war in the DRC, remained opened and is currently the only refugee camp in Tanzania.
Recently, it has been estimated that over 50,000 refugees have fled from Burundi to Tanzania to escape political unrest that began on April 26, 2015. On average, 1,000 arrive each day and are placed in new arrival tents which has drastically changed the situation of the camp and turned it into an emergency situation. This has been problematic as the arrival of these refugees were unanticipated and sudden.
The influx was unexpected hence UNHCR has struggled to accommodate these new refugees. Since Nyarugusu is the only remaining refugee camp in Tanzania, the new influx was sent there. This has caused a strain on the camp which was built to accommodate a maximum of 50,000 but was already sheltering more than 60,000 Congolese. The camp only had 16 schools for 30,000 children, 14 of which were primary schools and only 2 secondary. The arrival of an additional 35,000 Burundians has stretched the camp’s population to 100,000, double the camp’s maximum capacity. They were initially placed in schools, churches and playgrounds but once these facilities became overcrowded emergency mass tents were built.
Upon arrival refugees are given a wet meal and a two week supply of dry meal ,however, kitchens were not up to speed nor contain the supplies to provide these initial meal. Selective feeding is also available for pregnant and lactating women.
Health resources are also significantly strained as there are more people to deliver services to. Since the arrival of Burundians the birth rates have increased from an average 10-15 per day to 15-20. Furthermore, the situation was exacerbated by the cholera outbreak. The rising population has also caused a shortage of medication and the overcrowding of the health facilities.
As a result of the settlement being around since 1996 and being more than 5 years, it is considered to be protracted. Since the Congolese are assimilated they have become very resourceful and resilient. They have established ways to gain a livelihood and gain income and trade through a barter system. The camp has evolved and contains a restaurant and a market that sells a variety of goods from slippers to cell phones and sim cards. Some have even acquired livestock such as goats and chickens.However, the Congolese are a bit concerned about how the influx will affect them and the services being provided. The biggest grievances are the lack of sufficient water, low pay rates for refugees who are employed in the camp, less services because of the Burundian influx, and the long distances that women have to travel to acquire firewood and change in diet. They are requesting stoves that require little firewood so women would not have to risk being rape by walking long distances to collect wood, a change in the diet as they have had the same minimal diet of corn flour and beans for twenty years and equal pay rates as Tanzanians working in the camps.
Moreover, even before the arrival of the Burundians, Nyarugusu was being affected by Donor fatigue. The camp has been there for almost 20 years and is considered to be a protracted situation hence donors are weary of funding it especially along with the increasing number of other humanitarian crises. Prior to the arrival of the Burundians, Congolese allegedly did not receive supplies such as soap and blankets from UNHCR for three months. In times of emergency priorities change and adjust to best suite the needs of the situation. Therefore, the needs of the new arrivals have taken precedence over the already established refugees. Funding has also been a problem as many resources were directed to ebola relief.
While talks about the potential construction of a new camp are currently being held, the UNHCR has devised a contingency plan which included the best case, worst case, and most likely along with a draft budget. Long-term, the refugees face three choices: repatriation, resettlement, or local integration. Repatriation is difficult in the case of Burundi because the country’s small size makes it very difficult to obtain land. However, The U.S has agreed to resettle 30,000 Congolese. While Tanzania has granted citizenship to Burundian refugees in the past it is often a slow process.
This was a very informative and humbling experience! I will write another post about the visit!