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The Plight of Asylum-Seekers and Refugees in Tanzania
Across Africa Featured Post Governance Issues Special Report

Challenges and Resilience: The Plight of Asylum-Seekers and Refugees in Tanzania

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Tanzania, a country known for its natural beauty and wildlife, also plays host to a significant number of refugees and asylum-seekers.

These displaced individuals, mainly from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, face numerous challenges as they seek safety and stability.

Delving into the complexities of their situation, shedding light on both the struggles and the resilience of those caught in the midst of displacement became imperative.

The Refugee Landscape in Tanzania

As of 1 January 2022, Tanzania hosts over 246,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. The majority of them come from neighboring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Approximately 83% of these displaced individuals reside in two main refugee camps: Ndutu and Nyarugusu, both located in the northwestern region of Kigoma.

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These camps serve as crucial hubs for providing essential services, including shelter, food, and healthcare.

Challenges Faced by Asylum-Seekers and Refugees

1. Strict Encampment Policy: While the camps offer a lifeline for many, the strict encampment policy remains a significant challenge. Asylum-seekers are confined to these areas, limiting their freedom of movement and self-reliance. They become dependent on humanitarian assistance, which can be insufficient to meet their needs.

2. Access to Education: Education is a fundamental right, yet many refugee children struggle to access quality schooling. Overcrowded classrooms, language barriers, and limited resources hinder their educational progress. NGOs and UN agencies work tirelessly to bridge this gap, but more support is needed.

3. Healthcare Disparities: Refugees and asylum-seekers often face health disparities due to inadequate medical facilities and limited access to specialized care. The burden on existing health infrastructure strains resources, affecting both refugees and host communities.

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Resilience Amid Adversity

Despite these challenges, the resilience of asylum-seekers and refugees shines through:

1. Community Support: Within the camps, strong community bonds develop. Refugees support one another, sharing resources, skills, and emotional strength. These networks provide a sense of belonging and hope.

2. Entrepreneurship: Some refugees have started small businesses within the camps, demonstrating remarkable entrepreneurial spirit. From tailoring to food stalls, these initiatives contribute to camp economies and empower individuals.

Just this week, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed deep concern about a series of messages of distress it has been receiving from a group of 10 asylum-seekers currently in a detention facility in Mutukula, in northwestern Tanzania.

These asylum-seekers have expressed fears for their safety upon being deported from Tanzania. Non-refoulement, an international principle, prevents states from expelling or returning individuals to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened.

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The UNHCR has said that it consistently advocates that refugees and asylum-seekers should not be returned to their countries of origin until their claims have been properly assessed by competent authorities in accordance with this principle.

The UN appealed to the Government of Tanzania for immediate access to the detained asylum-seekers to assist with the assessments of their individual claims.

It therefore hoped that the responsible authorities in Tanzania will work with UNHCR to resolve this situation in accordance with their obligations under international law.

Quotes from the Field

1. Amina, a Burundian refugee: “Life here is tough, but we hold onto hope. Our children deserve a better future.”

2. Dr. Joseph, a Congolese doctor volunteering in Nyarugusu: “Healthcare is a challenge, but we do our best. Every life saved matters.”

In conclusion, the plight of asylum-seekers and refugees in Tanzania is multifaceted. While challenges persist, the resilience and determination of these displaced individuals remind us of the human spirit’s capacity to endure. As we advocate for their rights and well-being, let us recognize their strength and honour their stories.

Comrade James Ezema, FILMMD, is a journalist and Director Programs at the Asylum and Refugee Rights Advocates (ARRA), a Nigeria based international nongovernmental organisation (NGO), and the President/Executive Coordinator of the Not Too Young To Perform (NTYTP) Leadership Development Advocacy. He can be reached via email: jamesezema@gmail.com or WhatsApp/Calls: +2348035823617

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Comrade James Ezema is a veteran journalist and media consultant. He is a political strategist. He can be reached on +2348035823617 via call or WhatsApp.

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