Nyota Kiza, 59, refugee from DR Congo.
“The camp is OK, except food. There isn’t just enough food. We eat the same things every single day. I would like for the food to change, or for there to be more of it.”

“I came here in December 2017. I fled because of the civil war in my country. When I lost my in-laws, I decided we had to flee. The first time I fled was just internally in DR Congo, but later, I decided to leave the country altogether.  I fled with just my daughter, the others were killed. I don’t know where my husband is.”

Whilst most Congolese refugees in Nyarugusu refugee camp have been in the camp since the 1990s, there are also recent arrivals, fleeing conflict in the neighbouring country DR Congo. 
Photo: Guri Romtveit/NRC
Read caption "There just isn’t enough food. We eat the same things every single day," says Kiza, 59, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Nyarugusu refugee camp, Tanzania. Photo: Guri Romtveit/NRC

Tanzania crisis ignored: “You people should look at us”

Guri Romtveit|Published 07. Mar 2019
In Tanzania, a peaceful country hosting 335,000 refugees, the lack of funding is so dire that aid agencies are struggling to meet even the most basic needs. NRC needs all the support we can get to make a difference.

“There is no area where we’re meeting the standards,” says the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) area manager Fred Magumba.

A neglected crisis

When did you last hear about the refugee situation in Tanzania? The country rarely makes international headlines or political agendas. This neglect leads to a lack of funding, hurting those who need it most.

“We want to be able to think about the future and contribute to giving people hope and an expectation that things will get better. As of now, the little that is available is distributed is barely enough to survive on,” says Magumba.  


Fred Magumba, Area Manager, Kibondo, Tanzania. 
Photo: Guri Romtveit/NRC
Read caption Fred Magumba is NRC’s Area Manager in Kibondo, Tanzania. "We’re trying our best to do what we can. But because of the underfunding, we’re not able to meet short-term needs, let alone even act in such a way to promote long-term solutions," he says. Photo: Guri Romtveit/NRC


“You should look at us"”

Marie Claire, 66, fled the violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a little over a year ago. She is passionate about conditions for refugees in the camps and pleads for more attention to the crisis:

“We are struggling, you should look at us. We are struggling with food. We are struggling with clothes. Our men go to find firewood, but we don’t have food to cook. We just eat beans and our stomachs hurt. We’re almost dying,” she laments.


Never-ending “emergency mode”

Tanzania hosts refugees mainly from DR Congo and Burundi. Many Congolese refugees fled violence in their home country in the ’90s, while most refugees from Burundi fled after civil war broke out in 2015 and 2016. Though refugees have lived in the camps for years, sometimes decades, aid agencies have not been able to move on from the initial “emergency mode”.

“The standards are just so low. Less than half the families have their own latrines. The rest have to use communal latrines. This is OK for an emergency, when people have just fled and arrived in the camp, but eventually, people have to own their own latrine. Right now, there simply isn’t money to fund it,” says Magumba.


School facilities in Nyarugusu. NRC has built new latrines for the girls in this school. 
Photo: Guri Romtveit/NRC
Read caption School facilities in Nyarugusu camp, Tanzania. NRC has built new latrines for the girls in this school. Photo: Guri Romtveit/NRC

In spite of pressing needs, NRC and other agencies have had to cut budgets and reduce aid to refugees. On top of the funding shortages, refugees’ lives are getting even tougher, as the government of Tanzania clamps down on activities that would allow refugees the chance to make money on their own. Tanzania has an encampment policy, which restricts the refugees to the camps. They are not supposed to earn an income, and humanitarian cash programming has been reduced or stopped. The restrictions put refugees in a situation where they’re waiting to be supported.


Read caption In 2018, funding for humanitarian aid only covered 27 per cent of the total needs. That has clear and direct consequences for the quality of assistance to refugees in the country. Infographic: Øystein Os Simonsen/NRC


Go to sleep and wake up in the same situation

The need for humanitarian agencies to provide hope and energy to people in the camps is tremendous, says Magumba. Right now, refugees have little to occupy themselves with:

“People go to sleep at night, and they wake up in the same situation, day in, day out. Children are born, grow up, get married, have children of their own – people live in the camps for generations, but there are no opportunities. People are just there, desperately hoping that maybe one day, they will have a chance to lead a normal life.”

“People are just there, desperately hoping that maybe one day, they will have a chance to lead a normal life.”
Fred Magumba, Area Manager NRC Tanzania

This chance is exactly what NRC is working for. Our education programmes target children and young people who may otherwise not be able to go to school. Older children who can’t learn at their age level get catch-up classes so they can get back into formal schooling. Young people get vocational training in skills they can use to earn a living in the camps and as well as when they return home. A child care centre gives young mothers and fathers a chance to attend our courses in ICT, tailoring and hairdressing, as well as baking and cooking classes.

Nizigama Janine, age 20

“I was born in Burundi, but we fled in 2016 because of the instability. I’m learning how to tailor shirts, pants, skirts and dresses. I like everything about this course. I want to find work after this, I hope to get a job with NRC.”

“I have one child already. I don’t know when the baby I’m carrying will be born.” 

Photo: Guri Romtveit/NRC
Read caption We target young mothers specifically for our youth education programmes. Janine, 20, is enrolled in our tailoring course, and expecting her second child. "I’m learning how to tailor shirts, pants, skirts and dresses. I like everything about this course. I want to find work after this," she says. Photo: Guri Romtveit/NRC

“We see that we’re making a big difference in the lives of these people,” says Magumba. “Refugees here are resilient. With the little that is available, they do everything within their means to survive and move on with their lives. They are people who are worthy of assistance, and NRC needs all the support we can get to make a difference.”

Facts: refugees in Tanzania
  • Political instability and violence in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo have forced more than 335,000 people to seek protection in neighbouring Tanzania.
  • The majority (229,000 people) reside in the country’s three biggest refugee camps: Nyarugusu, Mtendeli and Nduta.
  • Despite the voluntary repatriation of 48,720 Burundian refugees, the camps are still full and authorities are reluctant to open new camps.
  • Humanitarian organisations, despite their efforts, struggle to provide enough drinking water to the refugees, let alone education for the thousands of children who are missing out on school.
  • Tanzania has pulled out of the UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Network, and has restricted refugees’ access to livelihood projects such as markets and small businesses.
  • Meanwhile, all borders have been closed to refugees. With limited resources and funding, the situation remains dire.
  • Overcrowding in camps makes it difficult to meet increasing needs.