“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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
- 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.