THE REFUGEE MILLSTONE

At the beginning of November President Mkapa called the Regional Commissioner, the Regional Administrative Secretary, the Regional Police Commander, District commissioners and MP’s from Kigoma region to an emergency conference to discuss the increase in crime in the region.

Two months earlier Regional Administrative Secretary Raphael Mlama had explained in an interview with ‘Tanzanian Affairs’ the costs and the benefits for Tanzania of the massive influx of refugees. Between August 1998 and August 1999 over 100,000 refugees from Burundi and the Congo had entered Kigoma region. On the benefits side he said that Tanzania received help from the UN High Commission for Refugees and many NGO’s and other agencies and their help included the construction of new roads. The $1.42 million 93-km Nyakanazi -Kibondo road was inaugurated on August 27. UNHCR had provided the funds to facilitate transport of food and goods to refugee camps in the region. Other benefits included new water supplies, rehabilitation of schools, increased employment opportunities, provision of social services, re-afforestation projects and an improved market for produce. But many of these benefits had to be placed against the problems refugees brought with them. By far the most important was the serious deterioration in security. Kigoma used to be a haven of peace but now there was a serious crime wave and highway robbery -“They use machine guns to steal a radio” he said. In Kasulu district villagers had begged the government to relocate them, such was their fear of crime. Some refugees also introduced new diseases like cholera, rabies and sexually transmitted diseases. The environment was damaged as vast cities had to be carved out of previously virgin forest. Heavy lorries carrying supplies for the refugee camps also damaged the roads. It was impossible to control the refugees who often went back and forth across the Burundi and Congo borders. On their return many would try to obtain additional entitlements to food and supplies by concealing their earlier stays in the camps.

Meanwhile in Kagera Region, which once hosted over half a million refugees, the crime wave they have left behind is such that the authorities now advise travellers by road to take a police escort with them.

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