Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: A Case Study of Refugees in Towns

Aisling O’Loghlen, Nondo Nobel Bwami

Feinstein International Center, Tufts University, April 2018



There are approximately 10,000 refugees in Dar es Salaam, the majority from DRC and Burundi. The report examines the vulnerabilities of urban refugees and the difficulties they encounter in accessing basic services. The report begins with an overview of the refugee situation in Tanzania generally, and in Dar es Salaam in particular. Urban refugees in Dar es Salaam live alongside the city’s urban poor in informal settlements, where they face many of the same challenges such as: (a) rapid urban population growth, which is putting pressure on urban land and services including housing, transport, water and sanitation; and (b) the vulnerability of informal settlements to flooding and the effects of climate change. Refugees highlight several additional challenges including: (c) difficulties affording rent; (d) exploitative practices by landlords; (e) difficulties accessing sanitation (50 percent of respondents shared a toilet with five or more families); and (f) discrimination (half of respondents had experienced discrimination at work). Many have suffered traumatic events such as separation from their children, killings of family members and rape.

The report outlines government policy on refugees, including the restrictive encampment policy. The majority of urban refugees do not have permission to live in the city, which has several consequences: (i) refugees are at constant risk of arrest, incarceration or deportation; (ii) they frequently pay bribes to police or neighbors who threaten to report them (half of those interviewed had paid a bribe since arriving in Dar); (iii) to avoid detection by authorities, refugees restrict their movements and limit interaction with Tanzanians (a quarter of refugees interviewed stated they had no Tanzanian friends); (iv) it is extremely difficult to register refugee children in schools; and (v) the majority of refugees work in low-skilled, low paying and insecure jobs, even though a significant proportion is qualified to work in the formal sector. Reducing food consumption is one of the primary coping mechanisms adopted by refugees when their income falls. The report is critical of UNHCR’s lack of assistance to urban refugees, and their lack of advocacy for an urban refugee policy. The report recommends:

  • Granting freedom of movement and providing identity documents to asylum seekers and refugees.
  • Improving access to business licenses and work permits for asylum seekers and refugees, and exempting them from obtaining employer sponsorship and other conditions that they are unable to satisfy because of their displacement.
  • Enhancing protection from refoulement by ensuring asylum seekers are given prompt access to fair and individualized RSD.
  • Mapping existing urban services in order to provide displaced populations with information on where they can access services, and to provide humanitarian organizations with information on service gaps.

The report notes that the Tanzanian government has recently withdrawn from the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), and delayed publishing the 2014 urban refugee survey, which suggests it is unlikely that urban refugees will be granted more freedoms in the foreseeable future. The final section of the report is a summary of lessons and good practice from other countries.