REFUGEES – THE POSITIVE AND THE NEGATIVE

The UN publication IRIN has reported on a recent study on refugees in western Tanzania.
Extracts: In its findings, the ‘Centre for the Study of Forced Migration’ at the University of Dar es Salaam said that, although assertions as to the impact of the refugees on the environment, security, infrastructure, administration and development were partially true, many were exaggerated and outdated. On the other hand, the Centre said that international aid for security, local governance and administration was inadequate and should be increased to help the country contain the burden of hosting the refugees.
At a subsequent meeting on the report Mark Waite, the country representative of Oxfam-UK said: “Because of the divergence of views and the difficulty for the media to report in western Tanzania, there is a need to hold discussions and establish a degree of objectivity on the matter”. The most senior government representative at the meeting, Kigoma Regional Commissioner Elmon Mahawa, described the Centre’s report as ‘very fair’, saying that it was everyone’s responsibility to reduce the negative impact of the refugee presence.
The Centre found that internal peace and security in Kigoma and Kagera regions, where the refugees lived, had been ‘devastated’ by crimes, but this could not, it said, be ‘mainly attributed to refugees’. Statistics on the numbers of people in prisons in the two regions suggested that, as percentages, the number of refugees and Tanzanians involved were very similar.
Concern about environmental degradation, which has often been cited as the most obvious negative impact of the refugee influx, was justifiable, the Centre said. However, most of the ‘dramatic stories’ in this context (in Ngara District, Kagera Region, for example, 47,000 ha of forest reserves had been felled for firewood and construction) related to the period between 1993 and 1996 when ‘the influx was large and the levels of awareness very low.’ Similarly, in terms of damage to infrastructure, health services and education, the Centre said that the initial burden on these services had been occasioned by the massive influx of refugees, primarily in 1994. It went on to say, however, that after the setting up of humanitarian operations, roads were built and maintained, education levels rose in Tanzanian schools, and health services improved. For example, in Ngara District, 26% of the population lived more than 5 kms from a health centre, as opposed to the national average of 30% percent. Maternal mortality in Ngara stood at 114 per 100,000 live births, while the national average was over 200. The benefits of the presence of refugees to the health sector far outweighed its negative impact.
In economic terms, the Centre said the lack of internal security may have contributed to the lack of productivity in agriculture. But, the arrival of humanitarian agencies had also led to an upsurge in business due to increased disposable income and the UN World Food Programme’s local purchases serving to support producers and suppliers. Also, the presence of refugees provided Tanzanian farmers with cheap – albeit illegal – labour, thereby expanding agricultural capacity in the area.
Moreover, central and local tax collections had increased significantly, with income tax in Kigoma Region from humanitarian agencies amounting to Shs 620 million ($620,000) annually.
‘So critical is the contribution of humanitarian agencies that whenever they scale down [their] presence, an immediate and dramatic drop in revenue is experienced by [the] Tanzania Revenue Authority.’
Although the Centre said that much of the anecdotal accounts about the impact of the refugees on the already overstretched judiciary might be exaggerated, it was very critical of the lack of support extended to the Tanzanian authorities for local governance and administration. Regional and district officials complain about the amount of time they have to devote to refugee work when they should be working on their own national responsibilities. And, despite the $1 million annual funding from the Office Of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for the policing of the refugee camps, the aid to Tanzania to cope with the insecurity in areas in which there are refugees is described by the report as ‘woefully inadequate’.

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