New TRAFIG study \ Urban refugees in Dar es Salaam turn their exile into a new home

Tanzania hosts around 265,000 registered refugees. Almost 85 per cent of these live in camps in rural areas, but an increasing number has moved to cities. Even though their presence is officially not acknowledged, Dar es Salaam, the country’s largest city, is home to an estimated number of ten thousand vulnerable migrants in refugee-like situations. TRAFIG working paper no. 8 reveals the social relations, survival strategies and strength of these urban refugees and acknowledges their dignity.

Tanzania has gradually shifted from an open-door policy for refugees to a more restrictionist regime. The analysis by authors from DIGNITY Kwanza, a Tanzanian human rights and advocacy non-governmental organisation, and Leiden University, the Netherlands, took place in a context where displaced people are often reluctant to openly show their identity. “Despite great odds, urban refugees in Dar es Salaam manage to turn exile into their home. In this situation, local networks, and mobility within the metropolis, but also social relations, digital connectivity and movements beyond the city are pivotal”, Janemary Ruhundwa, Executive Director at DIGNITY Kwanza, underlines.

Most of the urban refugees in Dar es Salaam come from the DR Congo and Burundi. In the city, they live in difficult situations marked by legal insecurity and socio-economic vulnerability. The authors of TRAFIG working paper no. 8 “Figurations of Displacement in and beyond Tanzania” do, however, consider the urban refugees as independent thinkers and individuals who make conscious choices in shaping their lives.

The analysis shows that there is room for urban refugees’ self-reliance and creativity in the city despite the restricting structures in which they find themselves. “Female urban refugees often use social media for entrepreneurial purposes even though the access to SIM cards has become increasingly difficult for persons who lack national identification documents”, Catherina Wilson, Leiden University, gives an example. The study shows that those who are connected can create employment opportunities and livelihoods, and those who have been immobilised do nonetheless search alternatives to keep on moving, which reflects their own strengths and dignity.

The two-page TRAFIG practice note no. 8 “Local connections for local solutions: Lessons learned in Tanzania” complements the working paper. The authors recommend that action should be taken to legalise the status of undocumented urban refugees in the city and facilitate legal movement of refugees from camps to urban areas. This would not only foster the urban refugees’ economic independence but also benefit the Tanzanian citizens who engage with them.

You will find TRAFIG working paper no. 8 “Figurations of Displacement in and beyond Tanzania” at:

and TRAFIG practice note no. 8 “Local connections for local solutions: Lessons learned in Tanzania” at:

The study was published in the framework of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 research project “Transnational Figurations of Displacement” (TRAFIG) which investigates long-lasting displacement situations at multiple sites in Asia, Africa and Europe and analyses options to improve displaced people’s lives. To read more about the EU-funded Horizon 2020 project TRAFIG, click here.

Further information: Susanne Heinke / BICC, Pfarrer-Byns-Str. 1, 53121 Bonn /+49 (0)228 911 96-0/ /

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