Tanzania’s Refugee Crisis: A Human Rights Violation

By: Macy Janine Pamaranglas – Art in Tanzania Intern


Not many people may have heard of this, but Tanzania is “one of the world’s most generous refugee hosting countries”, and it even hosted more than a million refugees 30 years ago.

The United Republic of Tanzania currently hosts around 248,000 refugees, mainly from its neighbouring countries, which are Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Refugees are full of hope as they consider Tanzania a place to survive and build their future. For instance, #CaseForChange is a movement which aims to transform lives with the use of mobile technology. This movement reached Tanzania’s largest refugee camp, Nyagurusu. #CaseForChange worked on innovating students’ learning experience by providing them with computers, tablets, and the Internet. This initiative inspired many students to strive for their dreams. In fact, a 20-year-old female student named Sephora says, “We’re not afraid anymore…we’re confident that we can achieve whatever we want”.

UNHCR (source)

Yet, despite the opportunities which Tanzania has to offer, the country is suffering from a refugee crisis. Here are some of the reasons why it is harder to become a refugee in Tanzania:

  1. Restricted Mobility

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), refugees are forbidden to leave the camps “to work, trade, or go to school”. Tanzania justifies such a “strict encampment policy” as the State aims to return refugees back to their conflict-ridden homeland rather than integrating them in Tanzanian society. Not only does this enforce discrimination and division, but it also endangers the lives of refugees. Consequently, refugees are neither able to sustain themselves nor able to contribute to the local economy. To comprehend such marginalization, Tanzania pulled out from the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). The latter is an “initiative to find solutions for refugees and improve the situation in refugee-hosting countries”.


2. Underfunded Refugee Response

Tanzania’s refugees struggle to attain their basic needs; thus, various humanitarian organizations struggle to provide basic services such as water and sanitation, education, shelter, and social services. According to UN OCHA, the refugee population needs 302.7 million dollars, but the available funds are only 82 million. In short, only 27% of the total needs can be covered.

UN OCHA (source)

In the education sector, there are limited classrooms for a rising number of students. For example, one classroom has 180 pupils per session, which can worsen due to possible camp relocations.

ReliefWeb (source)

Regarding shelter, refugees initially stay in a tent for a week since they are still in emergency mode. However, refugees are suffering from an unending cycle of “emergency mode”; hence, they must stay in these fragile tents due to the lack of more sustainable shelters. Fred Magumba, NRC’s Area Manager in Kibondo, Tanzania, says, “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 latrines. Right now, there simply isn’t money to fund it”. Unfortunately, considering the tough living conditions in these camps, various illnesses (i.e. malaria) are more probable to spread among refugees.

ICRC (source)

3. Abuse and Forced Disappearances

Burundian refugees have been suffering from arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances in collaboration with Tanzanian security forces and the Burundi State. The UN reports, “Burundian refugees and asylum-seekers now live in fear of being abducted in the middle of the night by Tanzanian security forces and taken to an unknown location or being forcefully returned to Burundi”. More specifically, Burundi intelligence staff pretend to be refugees to identify certain people. Afterwards, Tanzanian forces arrest these individuals. Furthermore, Burundian refugees are harassed to sign up for “voluntary return”.

Efforts for Improvement

Although Tanzania’s refugee response is considered “forgotten”, international humanitarian organizations are doing its best to cater to the needs of refugees. Examples include the following:

NRC provided “vocational training including basic education, life skills and entrepreneurship skills to youth”, “construction, maintenance and upgrade of transitional shelters”, “appropriate water supply systems including source selection, abstraction, storage, treatment and distribution of new systems and/or the repair/rehabilitation of old systems” etc.

IRC helped by “working with leaders of refugee communities to prevent violence against women and bolster women’s empowerment”, “providing counselling services and support to survivors” etc.

Oxfam contributed to the camps’ betterment “by installing water supplies and tap-stands, constructing water storage tanks, toilets, bathing shelters and hand washing facilities, and digging rubbish pits.”

MSF (source)


According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, “a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom”. Therefore, as a host country, Tanzania must respect the core principle of non-refoulment, for it is a rule under customary international law. Together with international humanitarian organizations, Tanzania’s refugee crisis needs greater attention since, in human rights, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” (Article 7 of UDHR).


At Tanzania’s refugee camps, local health teams take the lead. The US Presidents Malaria Initiative VectorLink Project. (2022, June 6). Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://pmivectorlink.org/2022/06/06/at-tanzanias-refugee-camps-local-health-teams-take-the-lead/

Burundian refugees find safety in Tanzania but also new challenges. Oxfam International. (2022, May 25). Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.oxfam.org/en/burundian-refugees-find-safety-tanzania-also-new-challenges

NRC in United Republic of Tanzania. NRC. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.nrc.no/countries/africa/nrc-in-tanzania/

Romtveit , G. (2019, March 6). 6 things to know about refugees in Tanzania. NRC. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.nrc.no/perspectives/2019/6-things-you-should-know-about-refugees-in-tanzania/

Romtveit, G. (2019, March 7). Tanzania crisis ignored: “You people should look at us”. NRC. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.nrc.no/news/2019/march/tanzania-crisis-ignored-you-people-should-look-at-us/

Tanzania. International Rescue Committee. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.rescue.org/uk/country/tanzania

UNHCR – the 1951 refugee convention. UNHCR. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.unhcr.org/1951-refugee-convention.html

United Nations. (2021, April 13). Burundi refugees in Tanzania living in fear: Un rights experts | | 1UN news. United Nations. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/04/1089632

United Nations. (n.d.). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

YouTube. (2019, February 26). From hardship to hope in the classrooms of Tanzania’s biggest refugee camp | #caseforchange. YouTube. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqGSesy2RLs&t=332s

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