Dar el salam, Tanzania





Refugees settled in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, mainly come from Burundi but there are also other refugees originating from Uganda, Rwanda, Somalia and the Comoros Islands. In 2011,as many as 20 000 were living in the capital city of Tanzania (Asylum access).

Legal status:

Marc Sommers distinguishes 4 urban refugee profiles in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania:

  • Those who are recognized as refugees or were naturalized and thus have permission to reside in the city. They tend to be well educated and wealthier than the rest of their community (Sommers, 1999)
  • Those recognized as refugees but residing illegally in Dar Es Salaam due to the encampment policy
  • Asylum seekers
  • Those who were not recognized as refugees but claim to be in need of international protection (Mozambicans especially).

Most refugees lack legal documentation and thus keep a low profile. Only 36 % of the respondents to a study held by William Roos in 2005 had registered with UNHCR, be it at its office in Dar Es Salaam or in one of the refugee camps (see the Online Resources section of this page).


Before fleeing to Tanzania, most refugees now living in Dar Es Salaam were originally urban citizens in their country of origin.

Displacement pattern


  • 1959: first wave of asylum seekers from Rwanda. Tanzania had at that time an open door policy towards refugees
  • 1972: because of the massive killings in Burundi, amounting to a “selective genocide” according to the Minority Rights Group, some 160,000 Burundian refugees found refuge in Tanzania. A vast majority of them were naturalized recently
  • 1989: numerous people from Rwanda found refuge in Tanzania, in Ngara villages
  • 1990-1991:  in the wake of the violent events in Somalia, thousands of Somali refugees fled to Tanzania, including in Dar Es Salaam. Very few of them were entitled to reside in the capital.
  • 1993: an estimated 300,000 Burundians fled to Tanzania when the civil war began
  • 2000: There was an estimated 1 million refugees in the country, 99 % of whom  originated from the Great Lakes region. The overwhelming majority of them are Burundi (69 %) (Roos, 2005).

Main trend:

  • While some refugees had a first experience in a refugee camp, be it in Tanzania or in another country of first asylum, the vast majority of urban refugees arrived directly to Dar Es Salaam.
  • Some Congolese living in Dar Es Salaam were previously living in a Tanzanian refugee camp. They then repatriated but had to move again after the breakdown of civil order in 1998. In spite of going back to the refugee camps, many of them headed to the capital city of Tanzania.
  • Some Rwandan now residing in Dar Es Salam previously sought refuge in ex Zaïre for more than 20 years. They left to Tanzania following the 1996 and 1998 wars in the DRC and headed to Dar Es Salaam

Protection concerns:

  • Most refugees in Dar Es Salam live a clandestine life, having no legal status or permission to reside in the city. They are treated as irregular migrants and have to face detention and deportation. As a coping mechanism, some of them hide their identity and present themselves as Tanzanian citizens (Sommers, 1999)
  • Urban refugees do not receive assistance in the capital city as they are not supposed to reside there. UNHCR budget is insufficient to meet the needs and the encampment policy of Tanzania further undermine the ability of the organization to assist urban refugees.

Refugee Law:


1951 Convention: Signatory


1969 OAU Convention on the Refugee Problems in Africa: signatory


1995 Immigration Act: prevents refugees to live outside the so called “designated areas” (refugee camps). Only those having a “geniune” security concern if they live in the refugee camp are entitled to live in urban areas. Any refugee who self settled in an urban area without permission is considered as an illegal immigrant and may face penalities, sanctions or even deportation for such.

1998 Tanzania Refugees Act: only those refugees residing in the “designated areas” of the country are entitled to receive humanitarian assistance. Living outside of the camp without permission is still considered as an offence

2003: policy document focusing on refugee admission procedure and refugee rights, treatment and state obligation.

2010 Memorandum of Understanding with the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat : established a cooperation with other East Africa countries on “the protection of forcibly displaced people, immigration regulations and refugee movements” (UNHCR, 2012).

Asylum policy:

The Tanzanian government currently aims at ending the refugee situation in the country. Refugees are encouraged to live the two remaining refugee camps, Nyarugusu and Mtabila, and those who are unwilling to repatriate tend to self settle in Dar Es Salaam.

Online resources:

Willems, Roos (2005), Coping with displacement: Social Networking among Refugees, in Itaru Ohta & Yntiso D. Gebre (eds.) Displacement Risks in Africa: Refugees, Resettlers and their Host Populations. Trans Pacific Press, Australia, pp. 53-77.

Sommers, Marc (1999) Urbanisation and its discontents: urban refugees in Tanzania, Forced Migration Review, n° 4

Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter and Janemary Ruhundwa (2010), No Place Called Home, a report on Urban refugees living in Dar Es Salaam, Asylum Access

Willems, Roos (2003), Embedding the refugee experience: forced migration and social networks in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, PhD Dissertation University of Florida

Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter and Janemary Ruhundwa, Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Urban Refugees in Tanzania, Africa Law Today, Volume 4, Issue 1

“O’Loghlen and McWilliams (2016) The nexus of displacement, asset vulnerability and the Right to the City: the case of the refugees and urban poor of Dar es Salaam Tanzania”, the International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development, Vol 8 (2).

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