Last Updated: Thursday, 22 February 2018, 11:52 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Tanzania

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Tanzania, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 22 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.

TZA figures


Tanzania hosted nearly 433,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including 332,000 from Burundi and 99,000 from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa). Some of the Burundians arrived in Tanzania as early as 1972, while others arrived since renewed violence swept their country in the mid-1990s.

The Government registered 262 new refugees, about 220 from Congo-Kinshasa and the rest from Burundi and Rwanda.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Tanzania forcibly returned more than 150 recognized Burundian refugees early in the year. A special police unit sent to Kagera arrested and deported those it caught outside the camps collecting firewood or food. Following protests by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Minister of Home Affairs allowed their readmission and authorized local officials to readmit refugees wrongly deported in the future.

Between May 2006 and May 2007, Tanzania expelled roughly 15,000 Rwandans and several thousand Burundians including some registered refugees, some of whom had lived in Tanzania since the early 1960s. Officials reported that the deportees had declined offers of permanent residence or citizenship.

According to the U.S. State Department, UNHCR and the Tanzanian Government "strongly encouraged" Burundian and Congolese refugees to repatriate, by closing 20 schools in the camps and stopping refugee income projects. During the year, five camps closed and 38,300 Burundian refugees and 19,500 Congolese repatriated with UNHCR assistance.

In January, suspected members of the Interahamwe militia from Rwanda reportedly entered and killed three Rwandan refugees and injured several others. Women in the camps were often victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Tanzania was 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, but maintained a reservation to the Protocol's referral of disputes between States Parties to the International Court of Justice.

The Government said it granted Burundians and Congolese prima facie status, but maintained District Ad Hoc Eligibility Committees (Ad Hoc Committees) in major refugee-hosting areas to screen them with intensive individual interviews. The National Eligibility Committee (NEC) conducted regular status determinations for other applicants. Both bodies forwarded recommendations to the Minister of Home Affairs for final decisions and appeals went to the Minister as well. UNHCR observed both NEC and Ad Hoc Committee processes.

The Refugees Act of 1998 required 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

Tanzania sentenced the 100 refugees arrested for leaving the camp without permission to community service rather than detaining them as it would have in previous years. All told, Tanzania arrested nearly 760 refugees for criminal charges or for leaving designated areas without permission. There were nearly 1,260 refugees in detention at year's end.

The Refugees Act permitted the Government to detain refugees or asylum seekers for up to three months if they acted "in a manner prejudicial to peace and good order" and if they were "prejudicing the relations between the Government of Tanzania and any other Government." Along with regular police, refugees formed their own police auxiliary force to patrol the camps. Its members could not carry firearms but did use clubs for self-defense.

The Refugees Act also permitted the imprisonment of refugees and asylum seekers for up to three months to wait for extradition requests if it appeared likely that they had committed an offence in another country that was punishable by imprisonment under Tanzanian law.

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

According to the U.S. State Department, prison conditions were "harsh and life threatening," and guards allegedly sexually abused inmates. Diseases, especially malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and cholera, were common and often fatal. UNHCR had free access to refugee detainees in all prisons, monitored the status of refugee detainees, and provided them with personal items and medical services. Tanzanian law required authorities to notify UNHCR whenever they detained a refugee, as well as to inform refugees of their right to contact UNHCR.

In both the Congolese and Burundian refugee camps, refugees used traditional justice systems to resolve disputes, but there were no reports of detention or physical punishment by them.

The 1977 Constitution (amended 1985) guaranteed the equality of all residents before the law and prohibited discrimination based on nationality. In practice, the location of the High Court and subordinate courts only in towns and cities limited refugee access. Refugees accessed mainly primary and magistrate courts located in rural areas near the refugee camps. The limited availability of interpreters also impeded refugees' access to courts.

Beginning in 2006, advocates from the National Organization for Legal Assistance (NOLA) provided legal assistance to refugees under UNHCR's Strengthening Protection Capacity Project.

The Government of Tanzania issued travel documents to 14 refugees, which authorities generally respected as identification within the country. Most refugees did not hold government identification, as the last major census of the refugee population was in 1988. Each family in the camps had a ration card that attested to their identity.

Tanzanian law did 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 required asylum seekers and refugees to live in designated refugee camps or settlements, and the Government vigorously enforced restrictions on unauthorized movement. Authorities issued permits to leave the camps for 14 days, renewable. The Government apprehended and prosecuted about 100 refugees and asylum seekers for movement violations. The Refugees Act mandated fines of up to 50,000 shillings ($45) or imprisonment of up to six months but authorities typically sentenced them to community service.

The Refugees Act permitted the Government to designate where refugees and asylum seekers could enter and leave the country, and permitted it to designate routes when they traveled internally. Failure to obey such an order was punishable by up to six months' imprisonment and fines of up to 50,000 shillings ($45).

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

Refugees had to apply to the Director of Immigration for a travel document, stating a reason for travel such as study, medical treatment, religious purposes, or resettlement. The Ministry of Home Affairs issued 14 for fees of 20,000 shillings ($18).

The Constitution reserved to citizens its right to freedom of movement.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The Refugees Act forbade refugees from working without permits and provided for fines up to $180 and three years in prison for violations, and the 1999 National Employment Promotion Services Act (Employment Service Act) forbade foreigners from working and authorized fines of up to 1 million shillings ($901) and three years' imprisonment for violations. The Refugee Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Labor shared responsibility for the issuance, regulation, and renewal of work permits. The procedure for the issuance of work permits was unclear, and there were no reports of refugees receiving them.

The Government and UNHCR shut down all income generation projects in the Burundian camps in order to encourage repatriation, although they continued to allow them in Congolese camps. Some refugees continued to leave the camps to work in local villages, despite the risk of arrest. Typically, they worked as laborers on Tanzanians' farms for cash or in exchange for plots of land to farm themselves, and camp commanders often tolerated their working as long as they did not come into conflict with locals.

The Employment Service Act allowed self-employment and work for nonprofit or religious organizations, but also permitted the Government to ban foreigners from specific fields and required employers of foreigners to create training programs to train Tanzanians for the jobs.

The Constitution extended to all its protection of property rights and the law did not preclude refugees from owning land, but required that the president grant permission to buy land. Refugees could own movable property, business, and transfer capital. The Refugees Act required refugees to turn over all personal property to the Government for fair compensation at the time of repatriation.

Public Relief and Education

Insufficient rations and restrictions on work led refugees to poach wild animals.

UNHCR and its implementing partners provided basic assistance, clothing, and health services to all refugees in camps. UNHCR and the Government cut back services to promote repatriation, including closing schools.

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

The Government generally allowed humanitarian agencies access to refugees but required permits for foreigners to travel to the camps. Entering a camp or addressing a group of more than five refugees without permission was punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 shillings ($180).

The Refugees Act guaranteed refugees education on par with Tanzanian nationals "in accordance with the National Education Act of 1978." The 2003 National Refugee Policy (NRP), however, provided that schools should teach refugee children "in accordance with the curricula used in their countries of origin." The Government followed the latter, with UNHCR, UNICEF, and international donors funding it. Average enrolment of children in camps was 90 to 100 percent.

The NRP also noted that "refugees are human resources which 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 mentioned refugees as "external shocks" and "environmental disasters" to manage along with "epidemics, pest infestation, droughts, floods, major transport and industrial accidents, ... and fires."

USCRI Reports

  • Contrary to International Law, Tanzania Continues Forcible Returns of Burundian Refugees (Press Releases)

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