The Rwandan Refugee Crisis in Tanzania: initial successes and failures in food assistance

by S. JasparsSeptember 1994

The story Jaspars tells in this network paper concerns 170,000 Rwandan refugees Hutus fleeing the advancing Rwandan Patriotic Front who crossed from their country into Tanzania over a 24-hour period in spring of 1994. This was the largest and fastest refugee influx the world had yet seen. They entered the camps at an unprecedented rate, requiring 155 tonnes of commodities per day within 2-3 days, an agency achievement that remains impressive.

In the camps food distributions were organised over three-day cycles with approximately one-third of the camp being supplied each day by agency workers helped by refugee leaders asked to divide the population into manageable units.

The Benaco refugees’ story is considered particularly successful when compared to other operations where the initial influx is often followed by increased rates of malnutrition, morbidity and even mortality.

Jaspars identifies the crucial factors for success as: preparedness, including resource stockpiles, experienced UNHCR and other NGO staff already present in Tanzania, Tanzanian government receptivity to the refugees’ plight and their own good food security arrangements, and finally, considerable knowledge about the refugees; superior coordination between agencies; and good infrastructure and supplies available in Nairobi.

Jaspars then outlines the important lessons arising from this massive undertaking. A great deal was learned about common problems arising in big camps and the author points to improvements. Sadly these recommendations would be necessary by that same summer, when even bigger Rwandan refugee movements were seen.

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