UK stands with Tanzania in supporting refugees

20Jun 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Commentary
UK stands with Tanzania in supporting refugees

TODAY is World Refugee Day. In the 16 years since this day has been marked, never have we needed a moment to come together more.

The number of refugees and displaced people is at an all-time high while the world struggles to respond.
Against that backdrop, Tanzania is a beacon of hope.

Since Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere’s time, Tanzania has a long and honourable record of offering hospitality to refugees from the conflicts that plague many of its neighbours.

Nowhere is that more visible than in Nyarugusu camp in Kigoma Region. When I first visited Kigoma in 2014, Nyarugusu was home to around 65,000 Congolese refugees who had been there since the late 1990s.

But since April 2015, they have been joined by 143,000 Burundians who have been forced to flee their homes. Around 500 are still coming every week. More could come if the situation in Burundi deteriorates or indeed if the scheduled elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo later this year trigger violence.

At a time when refugees dominate the headlines in Europe, I want to thank the government and people of Tanzania for providing refuge, land and, just as importantly, legal status for those that make the arduous journey to your borders.

I also want to recognise the tremendous role of the regional, district and community authorities. It is they, and the people they represent, who must manage the immediate impact of a surging population.

The UN and NGOs have also done great work in difficult circumstances. They have prevented cholera and provided food, shelter and medical care to people who have often fled with just what they could carry. But they could not have done this without the government and people of Tanzania first providing a welcome.

The conflict was sparked by Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza trying to change the constitution to extend his term – a common cause of conflict that Tanzania has managed to avoid.

Whenever I go to the refugee camps and speak to the recently arrived Burundians, I am always deeply moved by the horrors they have endured. Those horrors will not stop unless we address the root causes of this crisis.

Again, Tanzania is playing a leading role. Former President Benjamin Mkapa is working tirelessly to try and resolve the conflict. The UK is firmly behind him.

The UK is also one of the largest donors to the Burundi humanitarian response to this crisis. We have so far provided £14.25m to support the Burundian refugees in Tanzania.

And today, the UK is announcing a further £15m (46 billion/-) that will go to pay for food, water, education and other essentials, as well as help to the local communities that are hosting the refugees. This brings our total contribution to the Tanzanian response to £29.25m (90 billion/-).

But conflict, persecution and environmental crises are forcing large numbers of people to leave their homes in many places Africa. There are an estimated 15 million forcibly displaced people in Africa and at least 3 million refugees.

In some cases there is little prospect of a return to their homes. According to the Overseas Development Institute, there are currently 10 million refugees globally that have been displaced for more than ten years.

When I last visited Nyarugusu, I met an 18-year-old woman who arrived at the camp when she was just four years old and has never left it. She had just completed her high school studies in the camp and wants to be a lawyer. She spoke of her frustration at being unable to realise this dream while confined to the camp.

This sense of aspiration and a need for hope is common to protracted refugee crises across the world. Increasingly it is not enough just to sustain life today. We need also to think about hope for tomorrow. Done well, this can help the refugees and, just as importantly, help the communities that host them.

Again, Tanzania provides an excellent example. In 2012 it gave citizenship to 162,000 refugees from Burundi who fled their homes 1972. It was an unprecedented act of generosity.

When they came over, these refugees were given a small parcel of unused land each. They have since become very productive framers, contributing to the local economy and providing tax receipts for the government.

DFID has supported the government and UNHCR to give them citizenship, and will continue to help ensure that they are fully integrated into the local government and society.

So thank you Tanzania for standing with refugees. The UK will stand with you as you continue to be an example to the world in managing large and protracted refugee populations.

• Vel Gnanendran is Head of the DFID Office in Tanzania and was previously Chief of Staff to the International Development Secretary.