Tanzania hosted approximately 520,000 refugees at the end of 2002, including more than 370,000 from Burundi, some 140,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, about 3,000 from Somalia, and fewer than 3,000 from Rwanda.
Tanzania hosted an additional 300,000 to 470,000 Burundians who resided in western Tanzania in refugee-like circumstances without official refugee status.
An estimated 45,000 new refugees fled to Tanzania from Burundi, Congo-Kinshasa, and Rwanda during 2002.
Increased pressure by the Tanzanian government on refugees to return home, combined with worsened security in refugee host communities, compromised refugee protection during 2002. "The Tanzanian government's position regarding the continued presence of refugees has hardened," a UN report declared in September.
Humanitarian assistance agencies continued to express concern that the massive refugee population in Tanzania was intermingled with Burundian rebels and other militias that endangered the lives of refugees and local citizens.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was unable to confirm numerous reports of recruitment of refugees into the ranks of armed rebel factions and of paramilitary training in and around Tanzania's refugee camps for Burundians. Persistent rumors alleging that Tanzania knowingly harbored Burundian armed elements strained relations between the Tanzanian and Burundian governments during the year.
Criminal elements, members of armed militias, Tanzanian security personnel, and some refugees continued to commit murders, rapes, and armed robberies in refugee camps and against local citizens. One refugee died while in police custody. Less-welcoming rhetoric from Tanzanian government officials toward refugees, and intensified competition for scarce natural resources between refugees and local residents, contributed to increased violence against refugees during 2002.
UNHCR strove to preserve the civilian and humanitarian character in and around Tanzania's refugee camps amid the security concerns. UNHCR protection staff conducted workshops for local police, refugee and community leaders, and humanitarian assistance workers to teach them about refugee law and many refugees' problems with sexual and domestic violence.
UNHCR provided funding for approximately 300 police officers in refugee areas and employed several international field safety advisors in northwest Tanzania. Budget constraints forced UNHCR to postpone plans to hire additional security personnel.
Citing concerns about the safety of refugees and local residents, the Tanzanian government strictly enforced its policy restricting refugees from traveling more than 2.5 miles (4 km) outside of camp perimeters.
In May, Tanzanian authorities arrested about 400 refugee boys and young men marching toward the Burundi border and detained them at a special facility for suspected combatants funded by UNHCR. Authorities suspected that Burundian rebel groups recruited the young refugees. The refugees remained in custody in overcrowded conditions for several weeks.
Authorities arrested 50 Rwandan refugees after a vehicle accident near the northwest town of Ngara in December. The refugees chose to return to Rwanda rather than face imprisonment for illegally leaving their refugee camp.
Tanzania is a party to the UN Refugee Convention. UNHCR and the Tanzanian Ministry of Home Affairs continued to discuss possible changes to Tanzania's 1998 Refugee Act. Although no revisions occurred during 2002, UNHCR continued to recommend reforms that would make Tanzania's domestic law more compatible with international refugee law in protecting refugees' rights.
During 2002, UNHCR documented no cases of forced refugee repatriation (refoulement). However, government officials repeatedly announced during the year that Burundian and Rwandan refugees should repatriate by the end of 2002. International observers, including the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), questioned the methods used by Tanzanian authorities to encourage tens of thousands of refugees to repatriate (see below).
Refugee Humanitarian Assistance
Tanzania hosted one of Africa's largest refugee populations, approximately a half-million, at the end of 2002.
Most refugees lived in a 150-mile (250 km) string of camps and rudimentary settlements near Tanzania's western border with Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo-Kinshasa, where basic social services barely met the needs of local residents.
The refugee population was nearly half as large as the western region's local population. Chronic budget constraints, remote camp locations, poorly maintained roads, and deteriorating security hampered assistance.
UNHCR struggled financially to implement its programs during the year. Donor nations provided fewer contributions, forcing the agency to implement critical budget cuts, including $1 million each in the months of June and November.
UNHCR maintained minimal health care, shelter, and food assistance programs, but curtailed programs to improve ailing water systems, construct new latrines, and maintain mental-health services.
Budget constraints forced UNHCR to delay road repairs linking border reception centers to refugee camps. The agency also postponed replacement of its aged heavy-vehicle fleet for the fifth consecutive year, and temporarily suspended distribution of high-energy biscuits to repatriating refugees. Tree planting and road-rehabilitation programs to lessen the degradation caused by the large refugee population continued on a reduced scale.
UNHCR and its implementing partners conducted training workshops and awareness campaigns to combat sexual and gender-based violence. Victims of sexual violence received counseling, medical care, and legal support.
To generate income to supplement their diets, many refugees worked menial jobs in and around their camps or sold their food rations and non-food items. Tanzanian authorities dramatically reduced the number of travel permits issued to refugees and increased police and military round-ups of refugees outside of camp perimeters.
The strict travel restrictions severely impeded the ability of refugees – primarily Burundians living in long-established camps – to farm or work as laborers in neighboring villages. Most refugees remained totally dependent on World Food Program (WFP) food rations.
Although mortality and malnutrition rates in refugee camps remained well below emergency thresholds, the number of persons suffering from nutritional deficiencies, malaria, and HIV/AIDS continued to rise. Malaria, acute respiratory infections, and diarrheal-related diseases remained the leading causes of death among refugee adults and children.
In response to a meningitis outbreak that killed 10 refugees in western Tanzanian's Kibondo District, health workers vaccinated more than 140,000 Burundian refugees, 90,000 Tanzanians, and 1,000 humanitarian assistance workers.
More than 22,000 refugee children attended primary school, approximately 1,000 students attended secondary school, and some 500 adults enrolled in carpentry, masonry, shoe repair, and literacy programs.
Refugees from Burundi Nearly 30,000 new Burundian refugees fled to Tanzania during 2002, joining more than 340,000 others who had fled there during the past decade to escape warfare and human rights violations in their own country.
Nearly all new arrivals entered Tanzania during the final four months of the year, including 18,000 during October. Many new arrivals were refugees who had repatriated earlier in the year, only to flee again. An additional 2,000 Burundians relocated from Tanzanian villages to refugee camps during the year.
UNHCR maintained ten camps to accommodate the Burundian population. The Tanzanian government reported that an additional 300,000 Burundians lived in western Tanzanian villages, and some 170,000 others resided in makeshift settlements.
Tanzanian authorities denied official refugee status to Burundians living outside designated refugee areas, and USCR has described these Burundians for many years as a "refugee-like" population. UNHCR provided no humanitarian assistance to them. Most have lived side-by-side with Tanzanian citizens for decades and were economically self-sufficient.
An estimated 50,000 Burundian refugees repatriated during 2002, including about 30,000 with assistance from UNHCR. Despite continued violence in parts of Burundi, UNHCR and the governments of Tanzania and Burundi signed a Tripartite Agreement in April to facilitate the repatriation. UNHCR did not actively encourage Burundians to return home, but the agency facilitated the repatriation of about 30,000 refugees who decided to return to areas of Burundi they judged to be relatively safe.
Refugees who repatriated with UNHCR assistance received plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen utensils, water containers, and transportation to their province of origin. WFP provided registered returnees with a nine-month food supply.
An additional 20,000 Burundians repatriated on their own without international assistance, risking robbery, rape, and harassment during the dangerous journey home.
USCR conducted two site visits to Tanzania in May and November to examine the repatriation of Burundian refugees. Many refugees expressed to USCR their fear that Tanzanian authorities would force them home against their will. Refugees also cited increased violence in and around refugee camps as the primary reasons behind their decision to repatriate.
A USCR report issued in June, "Returning to Partial Peace: Refugee Repatriation to Burundi," concluded that "indirect pressure by the Tanzanian government is motivating Burundian refugees to repatriate prematurely." USCR called on the Tanzania government to "respect the rights of Burundian refugees to make informed choices about whether or not to repatriate voluntarily."
Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa More than 140,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa lived in Tanzania at the end of 2002.
Unpredictable violence, political instability, and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Congo-Kinshasa pushed nearly 20,000 new Congolese refugees into Tanzania during 2002. Most new arrivals traveled by boat across Lake Tanganyika during January, February, and August to reach Tanzania.
Congolese refugees resided primarily in three camps – Nyarugusu, and Lugufu I and II – in western Tanzanian's Kigoma Region. The camps reached capacity in October. Following a site visit to Tanzania in November, USCR issued a report in December, "New Congolese Refugees in Tanzania," which noted that water, health, sanitation, and education facilities in the camps "were strained beyond their intended use."
UNHCR and Tanzanian authorities agreed to shelter newly arrived refugees in empty plots in Nyarugusu camp and at a long-established transit camp known as the Kigoma National Milling Center. The transit camp received more than 1,500 new arrivals per month. The transit center became overcrowded when authorities refused to allow UNHCR to transfer new refugees from the transit center to Nyarugusu. USCR's report urged the Tanzania government and UNHCR to construct a new camp to accommodate the refugee influx.
Refugees from Rwanda
Approximately 30,000 Rwandan refugees repatriated from Tanzania during the year, leaving only 3,000 in Tanzania at year's end. Thousands of other Rwandans who arrived in Tanzania many decades ago have settled into local villages.
An estimated 30,000 Rwandan refugees – virtually all ethnic Hutu – lived in Tanzania at the beginning of 2002, primarily in Lukole A' camp and in Kitali Hills camp in Tanzania's northwest region of Kagera. Many had originally fled to Tanzania in 1994 as part of a massive influx of 500,000 refugees. The refugee population also included about 10,000 Rwandans who fled to Tanzania during 2000–2001 and more than 1,000 who arrived during 2002.
The Tanzanian government abruptly decreed in October 2002 that all remaining Rwandan refugees should depart the country by December 31, 2002. Most refugees heeded the warning and returned home during the final three months of the year. The last convoy to depart Tanzania carried refugees who alleged that Tanzanian authorities threatened to burn down their homes if they refused to leave the country. UNHCR insisted, however, that "those repatriated were refugees who had voluntarily signed up their intention to return home."
Many international observers, including USCR, believed that the repatriation was less than fully voluntary and that most Rwandan refugees registered to repatriate because they believed they had no alternative.
Following a site visit to the region in late 2002, USCR issued a report, "Repatriation of Rwandan Refugees Living in Tanzania," which recommended that "in future repatriation exercises, the Tanzanian government should simultaneously present refugees with two alternatives: register to voluntarily repatriate; or register for individual status determination to ensure continued protection in Tanzania for bona fide refugees."
Refugees from Somalia
More than 3,000 Somali refugees continued to live at Mkuyu settlement in the eastern Tanzania region of Tanga. Most had fled Somalia's civil war in the early 1990s.
Nearly all Somali refugees depended on food aid during 2002. UNHCR and Tanzanian officials agreed in 1999 to establish a new site, Chogo, where Somali refugees could become self-sufficient through farming. However, budget constraints and construction delays prevented UNHCR from opening Chogo during 2002.
International Refugee Resettlement
Nearly 350 refugees in Tanzania, including about 200 Burundians and more than 100 Congolese, permanently resettled in Canada, Sweden, Norway, and the United States during 2002 as part of a formal resettlement process administered by UNHCR, other agencies, and foreign governments.