Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2009 - Tanzania

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 17 June 2009
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2009 - Tanzania, 17 June 2009, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Tanzania figures


Tanzania hosted roughly 321,900 refugees and asylum seekers, including 240,500 from Burundi and 79,700 from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa). There were two major groups of Burundians in Tanzania – those who arrived in 1972 and those who fled violence in the early 1990s.

During 2008, Tanzania encouraged the 1990s Burundian caseload to repatriate, while it gave the longer-staying Burundians the option to apply for naturalization. During 2008, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assisted the return of 63,000 of the 1990s Burundians, and 30,000 of the 1972 Burundians.

2008 Summary

Tanzania did not forcibly return any refugees to their countries of origin during 2008.

Sexual and gender-based violence (including rape, attempted rape, forced marriage, domestic violence, and sexual harassment) continued to be common in the refugee camps, and refugees reported being assaulted by police. There were also 11 murders, 8 cases of arson in which refugees were responsible, 31 armed robberies in which refugees were injured, 3 unarmed violent robberies, and 50 burglaries. Police officers were involved in some of the armed robberies of refugees, but the police force disciplined them. Refugees in the camps occasionally resorted to vigilante violence in response to crime, although this declined compared to previous years.

Tanzania arrested 24 refugees for moving outside restricted areas during 2008, all of whom it convicted and fined for the violation. Additionally, it detained 709 refugees for other criminal offenses. A Ministerial Task Force found Tanzania was holding 545 asylum seekers at the beginning of the year for being in the country illegally. Tanzania continued to arrest numerous asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa who were attempting to pass through the country along with non-asylum seekers to South Africa and elsewhere.

Tanzania received 178 applications for asylum during the year. The National Eligibility Committee (NEC) recommended refugee status for 103, while the District Ad Hoc Eligibility Committees (Ad Hoc Committees) recommended only 19.

The repatriation of the 1972 Burundians began with a census in July 2007, at which time 79 percent planned to seek Tanzanian citizenship. In March, UNHCR and its partner Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service (TCRS) opened a field office in Ulyankulu and began preparations for both repatriation and naturalization of the Burundian refugees. The Government brought the necessary lawyers, police, and immigration staff to the settlements to handle the naturalization process, and cut the fee from $800 to $50, which UNHCR paid on behalf of naturalizing refugees. The Government provided a pool of Tanzanians willing to serve as sponsors for the refugees.

Some refugees complained of exclusion from the naturalization process. In particular, refugees with disabilities, couples who had never formally married or separated but not formally divorced, children not formally adopted by their caretakers, and those with criminal records were being blocked, according to an early study of the process. A UNHCR official told a researcher that having been taken to a police station was enough to block naturalization, whether or not the person was ever convicted of a crime. Refugees with disabilities could not apply individually, and were therefore bound to their families' decision on repatriation or naturalization. Officials reportedly blocked the applications of refugees for disabilities as mild as missing fingers on the grounds they could not be properly fingerprinted.

UNHCR provided repatriating refugees from both the camps and the 1972 settlements with cash grants of 50,000 Burundian francs (about $42), legal advice, housing assistance, and health care. Although Tanzania's 1998 Refugee Law guarantees that repatriating refugees are entitled to bring any movable property they own with them, UNHCR imposed a weight limit of 220 pounds (100 kg) on the belongings refugees could bring with them.

During the year, authorities closed schools in Burundian camps to encourage repatriation, but with UNHCR's intervention they were reopened. The average primary school enrollment for children aged 5 to 12 was 90 percent. Class sizes remained large, with an overall student-teacher ratio of about 41 to 1.

Despite the ongoing repatriation, at least 200 Burundians fled to Tanzania in June, after fighting ignited between rebels and the Burundian government.

In December, Tanzania closed Nduta camp and transferred 10,000 refugees to Mtabila camp. At year's end, Mtabila held more than 46,000 refugees and was the last camp for Burundians in the country.

Law and Policy

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Tanzania is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Tanzania maintains a reservation to the Protocol's referral of disputes between States Parties to the International Court of Justice.

The Government says it grants Burundians and Congolese prima facie status, but maintains Ad Hoc Committees in major refugee-hosting areas to screen them with intensive individual interviews. The NEC conducts regular status determinations for other applicants. Both forward recommendations to the Minister of Home Affairs for final decisions; appeals are sent to the Minister as well. UNHCR observes both NEC and Ad Hoc processes, and can present legal arguments and question applicants during NEC procedures.

The Refugees Act of 1998 requires asylum seekers to present themselves to authorities within seven days of arrival, with exceptions for reasonable delays or changed conditions in their home country.

Detention/Access to Courts

The Refugees Act permits the Government to detain refugees or asylum seekers for up to three months if they act "in a manner prejudicial to peace and good order" and if they are "prejudicing the relations between the Government of Tanzania and any other Government." The Refugees Act also permits imprisonment up to three months for extradition requests if it appears they have committed an offense in another country that is punishable by imprisonment under Tanzanian law.

The law also permits administrators in refugee-hosting areas to detain refugees for up to three days in camp jails and fine them up to 5,000 shillings (about $4.50) for reasons including attempting to leave the area that the Government designates for their residence, disobeying camp rules, or acting "in a manner prejudicial to good order and discipline." Authorities often prosecute refugees for minor infractions under these provisions, rather than under the immigration law, which calls for up to two years in prison followed by deportation. Camp authorities can also detain refugees for up to 24 hours on suspicion that they have committed an offense. The Refugees Act specifically authorizes the use of force to compel refugees to obey orders, as long authorities warn the refugees beforehand.

UNHCR has free access to detained refugees in all prisons to monitor their status and provide them with personal items and medical services. Tanzanian law requires authorities to notify UNHCR whenever a refugee is detained, as well as to inform the refugee of their right to contact UNHCR.

Along with regular police, refugees form their own auxiliary force to patrol the camps. These patrol groups, as local governments throughout the country often form, are commonly called Sungusungu, which Tanzania formally recognizes. Members cannot carry firearms but carry clubs for self-defense. In both the Congolese and Burundian refugee camps, refugees use traditional justice systems to resolve disputes, known as "Abashingantahe" in Burundian camps and "Kiuno" in Congolese. These justice systems lack the authority to detain or otherwise physically punish refugees.

The 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania (amended 1985) guarantees the equality of all residents before the law and prohibits discrimination based on nationality. In practice, the location of the High Court and subordinate courts only in towns and cities limit refugee access. Refugees access mainly primary and district courts located in rural areas near the refugee camps. The limited availability of interpreters also impedes refugees' access to courts.

Since 2006, advocates from the National Organization for Legal Assistance have provided legal assistance to refugees under UNHCR's Strengthening Protection Capacity Project.

Authorities generally respect the travel documents issued by the Government as identification within the country. Most refugees do not hold government identification, as the last major census of the refugee population was in 1988. In the camps, each family has a ration card to verify their identity. Tanzania does not issue identity cards even to its own citizens, although it has announced plans to do so.

Tanzanian law does not recognize men as dependents, making it nearly impossible for refugee men married to Tanzanian women to obtain residence permits via marriage.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The Refugees Act requires asylum seekers and refugees to live in designated refugee camps or settlements, and the Government vigorously enforces restrictions on unauthorized movement. Authorities issue renewable permits to leave the camps for 14 days. The Refugees Act mandates fines of up to 50,000 shillings (about $45) or imprisonment of up to six months for movement violations. Authorities typically sentence them to only community service.

The Refugees Act permits the Government to designate where refugees and asylum seekers can enter and exit the country, and allows designation of routes for in-country travel. Failure to obey such an order is punishable by up to six months' imprisonment and fines of up to 50,000 shillings (about $38).

The Government allows a few refugees to live outside of the camps for educational, medical, or security reasons. In the western region, the Government allows refugees to gather firewood within about 2.5 miles (4 km) of the camps, but refugees often have to travel more than five miles (8 km) outside of the camp as closer supplies are exhausted. These refugees, usually women and children, often suffer theft, physical abuse, and rape. Refugees in camps near Kibondo can travel to the town with help from NGOs, but many are afraid to do so.

Refugees have to apply to the Director of Immigration for a Convention travel document (CTD), stating a reason for travel such as study, medical treatment, religious purposes, or resettlement. The CTD costs 20,000 shillings (about $15). UNHCR typically pays the cost of CTDs, which are valid for two years and can be renewed at Tanzanian embassies abroad. Refugees holding CTDs can return to Tanzania without applying for new visas.

The Constitution reserves to citizens the right to freedom of movement.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The Refugees Act forbids refugees from working without permits and provides for fines up to 200,000 shillings ($154) and three years in prison for violations. The 1999 National Employment Promotion Services Act (Employment Service Act) forbids foreigners from working and authorizes fines of up to 1 million shillings (about $768) and three years' imprisonment for violations. The Refugee Department within the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Labor share responsibility for the issuance, regulation, and renewal of work permits. The procedure for the issuance of work permits is unclear, and there are no reports of refugees receiving them.

The Employment Service Act allows self-employment and work for nonprofit or religious organizations, but also permits the Government to ban foreigners from specific fields and requires employers of foreigners to create training programs to train Tanzanians for the jobs. The Government allowed income generating projects within the Congolese camps, but shut down projects in the Burundian camps in 2007 to promote repatriation.

The 2003 National Refugee Policy (NRP) notes that "refugees are human resources which [sic] could be utilized for the improvement of the economy and the better of life and living standards." The National Strategy for Growth and the Reduction of Poverty, which the vice president's office prepared for international donors in 2005, only mentions refugees as "external shocks" and "environmental disasters" to manage along with "epidemics, pest infestation, droughts, floods, major transport and industrial accidents, ... and fires."

The Constitution extends protection of property rights to all and does not preclude refugees from owning land. Tanzania only permits Tanzanians to own land., with an exception for foreigners purchasing it for investment. Refugees can own movable property, business, and transfer capital. The Refugees Act requires the Government to provide fair compensation for any property left behind by repatriating refugees.

Bank loans are not available to refugees.

Public Relief and Education

UNHCR and its implementing partners provide basic assistance, clothing, and health services to all refugees in camps. In most camps, UNHCR and the World Food Programme provide food to groups of refugees, allowing them to divide it up as they see fit; subject to monitoring by implementing partners and the camp management. Pregnant and nursing women, those suffering from malnutrition, and those suffering from diseases including HIV/AIDS receive additional food.

The Government allows Burundians from the 1972 caseload to farm on land around their settlements, and access to local social services equal with nationals. The available land has, however, become unproductive from over-use.

The Refugees Act guarantees education equal with Tanzanian nationals "in accordance with the National Education Act of 1978." The NRP, however, provides that schools should teach refugee children "in accordance with the curricula used in their countries of origin." The Government follows the latter, with UNHCR, UNICEF, and international donors funding it.

Camp-based hospitals and clinics serve nationals from surrounding communities.

The Government generally allows humanitarian agencies access to refugees but requires permits for foreigners to travel to the camps. Entering a camp or addressing a group of more than five refugees without permission is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 shillings (about $154).

The Government's National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty mentions refugees only as an external cause of underdevelopment to be addressed. UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Health to provide anti-retroviral treatment to refugees in Tanzania on par with nationals.

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