Cover Image
close this bookThe Courier N 150 - March - April 1995 - Dossier: Refugees - Country Reports: The Bahamas, Guyana (EC Courier, 1995, 104 p.)
close this folderDossier
View the documentRefugees and displaced people
View the documentRefugee women
View the documentDevelopment-induced displacement
View the documentFleeing environmental devastation in the Sahel
View the documentIs there a refugee-specific education?
View the documentRefugee participation
View the documentRefugee assistance: a common approach
View the documentDefending humanitarianism at the end of the 20th century
View the documentMozambican refugees and their brothers' keepers
View the documentThe European Union's asylum policy: control, prevention, integration
View the documentAsylum procedures in the KU: towards a lowest common denominator
View the documentA European response to the global refugee crisis
View the documentRefugees from the former Yugoslavia - The view from Germany
View the documentDeveloping early warning systems
View the documentChallenging the assumptions of repatriation
View the documentAfrican hospitality takes the strain
View the documentInternational instruments concerning refugees.

African hospitality takes the strain

by Emma Gough

The Rwandan tragedy has had effects far beyond the country's borders. People fleeing the violence last April sought refuge in Tanzania, Zaire and Uganda. Their arrival has turned the lives of local people upside down. Emma Gough of Gemini News Service reports from Kyabalisa refugee camp in :Tanzania People in Tanzania's Karagwe district watch as aid workers screech past in Their fourwheel drive vehicles on their way to tend to the needs of the Rwandan refugees who fled there after last year's killings. They have watched their farms being swallowed up to make way for refugees huts, and they have watched once abundant trees being stripped from the hillsides for firewood.

They have mixed feelings about the activities going on around them. Many accept that the refugees are in greater need than themselves, that they are human beings just like them. As Johali Bitungwa, chairperson of a Tanzanian women's group says, 'It's a tradition of Africa to help people '

The Tanzanians were in the front line when the refugees first arrived. and they tell of how they looked after the refugees before the aid agencies geared up for action Adida belongs to the same group as Bitungwa: She explains how they helped the refugees for two weeks before Caritas (the aid agency) came. 'We worked as a group and organised collections at the school. We collected food cassava and plantains - and gave them cooking utensils.' The village councils even had to decide where the refugees could settle. If they had not made land available, it would have been acquired, just as water was channeled to the refugee camps, without regard for the needs of the local people Tanzanians have also had to cope with threats to their lives and livelihoods: their crops have been stolen, and many live in fear of looters. It was only when conflict between the local people and refugees arose that they were noticed at all In the rush to cope with the emergency, most agencies felt justified in ignoring them.

Candida Muhanika of the British aid charity, Oxfam, established a programme for women's development in Kyabalisa refugee camp. She included local Tanzanian women from the start 'There was a rift between the refugees and the local population, which was not good', she reports. 'Sometimes, when the refugees were going to fetch water from the rivers, they were chased. The same thing happened when they were going to collect materials in the valley for making mats. Since they started working with Tanzanians, they go together and nobody chases them any more. So it has improved the relationship between the locals and the refugees a lot.'

There have been some advantages for the Tanzanians living nearby. In Kagenyi village, which is now a refugee camp. Safura explains: 'There was a water shortage here, but Oxfam has constructed tap-stands and we now have clean water.' Other cite their access to medical services, and say that the refugees have opened up a whole new market for their produce tech benefit, however. is tempered by less positive effects. The new market, for instance. has come hand in hand with massive inflation In Kandegesho, close to the Rwandan border, women struggle with prices up to ten times higher than in March 1994. A bunch of bananas, which used to cost 100 shillings can now cost up to 1000. Says Florence Elisa, in Kandegesho: 'We can now sell whatever we produce, but always have to pay very high prices when we buy, so there is no profit.'

One of the most devastating effects is on the environment. As Safura and her neighbours look at the bare hills around them, they are worried: 'The refugees have cut down all the trees We don't have enough firewood and some times we can't cook We have to walk six or seven kiLomes to collect wood. It takes from early morning to three o'clock in the afternoon. Timber supplies are under pressure not only from people seeking fuel, but also from agencies gathering poles for construction. Wood is becoming harder to find, and increasing in price at an alarming rate.

Currently, the attitude of many people in the camps around Karagwe is one of tolerance, even generosity some have given plots of land to refugees to cultivate But as time goes on, and local resources become more scarce, further conflicts are certain to arise, unless the organisations working in the area take the Tanzanian people into consideration.

Adida is concerned about the future. A solution to the troubled existence that she and her neighbours are coping with must be found sooner rather than later. 'No-one has asked us what we think or want to happen, except Oxfam', she says. 'We'd like to talk to other organisations, but they are not interested. If the refugees stay here for long, we will run out of food and trees.'