UN agencies appeal for food for Burundian and Congolese refugees in Tanzania

19 July 2005

Funding shortfalls have led to cuts in food rations for Burundian and Congolese refugees in Tanzania, resulting in violence in families and sexual exploitation and the possibility of being jailed for doing illegal work outside the camps, two United Nations agencies said today, as they appealed urgently for $5 million.

A poor response to the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) appeals for funds or food for 400,000 people in a dozen camps in western Tanzania caused the ration reductions, which, in turn, have forced hungry refugees to search for illegal paid work outside what the Tanzanian Government has termed their “designated areas,” usually the immediate perimeter of the camps.

“As a result of poor funding and the subsequent ration cuts, refugees say the food they receive every two weeks in the camps lasts for seven to 10 days rather than the intended 14 days, meaning that they must either let their families go hungry, or risk going outside the camps where they might be arrested, beaten, or raped,” said WFP Country Director Patrick Buckley.

Unless WFP and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) soon receive $5 million, representing some 11,000 tons of food, ration reductions at the camps will continue through the end of this year. During this month and next the refugees will receive just 65 per cent of the necessary 2,100 daily kilocalories for healthy survival and without additional contributions by October the ratio will drop to 55 per cent.

“It is not uncommon, especially the week between food distributions, for refugees to be eating just one meal a day. Lack of food increases tensions among neighbours and families in the camps. In a survey earlier this year, we found that the number one reason for domestic violence was arguments over food – husbands and wives arguing over who in the family will eat, who will go out of the camp to look for work and risk arrest, or worse,” UNHCR’S Representative in Tanzania Chrysantus Ache said.

Some children were kept at home from school whenever food was scarce. A nutritional survey done last year showed that 37 per cent of children younger than five were chronically malnourished and 23 per cent were underweight. A follow-up study was scheduled for next month.

As a result of the food shortages, some refugees were electing to return to their countries of origin, even when their areas were not yet safe. UNHCR quoted one Burundian as saying, “It is better to be killed in your own country than to die a slow death in the camps from hunger.”


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