The children of Nyarugusu refugee camp

Davide Prata | October 1, 2015

Children in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania. Photo: Aaron Tate / CWS

Children in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania. Photo: Aaron Tate / CWS

There is nothing more innocent and powerful than a child holding your hand.

I am in Nyarugusu, a refugee camp in northwestern Tanzania. I step out of the car and more than thirty children are already coming closer and laughing.

Martin, a five-year-old in a dusty green t-shirt, proudly holds my hand with a great smile. Martin is one of 93,000 Burundian refugees who call Nyarugusu home.I would like him to take me around the camp and show me the tent where he lives. Simply standing close to him I am amazed to discover how life and hope can exist and flourish in the most despairing places.

Every day more than 200 new Burundian refugees arrive by bus to Nyarugusu crossing the border point of Buhigwe, Kokongo and Ngara. All new refugees arriving in Nyarugusu camp sleep in mass shelters, each with a plastic roof and upwards of 150 people.

CWS staff, in partnership with the ACT Alliance and Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service, have been working since June in Nyarugusu to fulfill the needs of the refugees. Together with other partners and U.N. agencies we have transformed this remote area into an organized camp. After three months of operations we are building new latrines and shelters, providing water and sanitation facilities and ensuring that the dignity of the refugees is restored and respected.

Every day, Martin goes to a makeshift school made of plastic sheets and poles. I would like to walk with his mum to get firewood and listen to her stories. They crossed Lake Tanganyika by boat in June 2015 and upon entering Tanzania as refugees, they left a well-founded fear of persecution behind them. I would like to ask Martin, “What else was left behind in Burundi? Did your best friend and relatives come with you?”

Nyarugusu is designed to host no more than 50,000 people, but this camp is currently three times over capacity. A reallocation plan is currently underway with the endorsement and support of the Tanzanian Government and UNCHR. By the end of 2015 over 40,000 refugees will move to a less congested and more permanent environment. CWS and TCRS – with ACT Alliance support – will be significantly involved in this reallocation.

According to the UNHCR reallocation plan, more than 40,000 refugees will move by the end of the year to two new camps, Nduta and Mtendeli. We are now building basic infrastructure in these two new camps including water and sanitation; new boreholes will be drilled, latrines, washing bays and bathing shelters will be constructed.

CWS is also investing in psychosocial support for the most vulnerable. Through this important support for the victims of violence, people with special needs and the general adult population, we are restoring hope and community links.
I am happy for the good work we are doing and I am proud to hold Martin’s hand today. All our energy and efforts are having a good impact. Soon refugees will have a more permanent place to live, reliable water source and sanitation facilities in a less congested environment but there is still a lot to do together!

Davide Prata is an Emergency Coordinator for CWS.

You can read more blogs on the CWS response in Nyarugusu here, here and here.