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A forgotten crisis life in Nduta refugee camp, Tanzania

A forgotten crisis: life in Nduta refugee camp, Tanzania

This month, I travelled to northern Tanzania with three UK Members of Parliament: Gillian Keegan, Layla Moran and Jess Phillips.

The purpose of our trip was to visit one of the three refugee camps in the region, which are currently home to over 320,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees.

Of the 107,000 people living in the Nduta Camp, 76% are women and children and it’s estimated that 54% are under 17 years old. Many of these young people were either born in this camp or another in the region, and have never had a permanent home.

One young girl described herself to us as a ‘nomad’, moving from camp to camp in an attempt to remain safe.

UK Members of Parliament Gillian Keegan and Layla Moran in Tanzania.
Gillian Keegan MP and Layla Moran MP meet children in one of Plan International's child friendly spaces.

The chance to be a child again

Our cross-party delegation spent several days in the region, visiting Plan International’s programmes.

We met adolescent girls attending one of the camp’s secondary schools and spent time talking to unaccompanied minors and their foster families, as well as visiting the child-friendly spaces we run in the camp.

These spaces offer an amazing set of services, from counselling and psychotherapy to training courses on IT and classes on how to write job applications.

They also provide playground equipment and football pitches, offering young people much-needed opportunities to play and be children again, amid all they have been exposed to.

A forgotten crisis

During the trip, what really stood out for me is just how forgotten this crisis is. These camps have been running since the 1990s, and yet many people I spoke to about the trip seemed surprised that there are any refugee camps in Tanzania at all.

Today, the camps are only receiving 12% of the funding they need. This means that up to 88% of the children and their families living in the camps are missing out on live-saving health, education and protection services – and are therefore being denied their basic human rights.

Without a shadow of a doubt, all the services I saw in the camp were critical to ensure that the children and their families are physically and emotionally healthy.

It serves as a stark reminder how vital it is that governments and donors around the world continue to support and fund all crises where vulnerable people are fleeing persecution and violence.  

UK Member of Parliament Jess Phillips in Tanzania.
Jess Phillips MP and Gillian Keegan MP meet children in one of the Early Childhood Development Centres we run in the camp.

Aid works

While travelling around the camp, one of the most obvious things I observed was that aid works. Despite being a poorly-funded crisis, there is still an amazing amount of work being done that offers a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

For this reason, the UK Government’s ongoing support to the aid budget is more important than ever, so that this life-saving work can continue.

It’s also vital that we recognise the work of the amazing aid workers delivering services on the ground.

I lost count of the number of staff we met who were hundreds if not thousands of miles away from their children, partners and homes.

It never fails to amaze me how passionate and hardworking these people are, despite being based in an incredibly remote part of the world, working extremely long hours in intensely difficult settings.

Education must be seen as life-saving

One thing I will never forget from the camp was our visit to the Hope Secondary School, where we met a group of adolescent girls who – against all the odds – had just finished their secondary education.

It was so inspiring to talk to them. Every single one had high aspirations: to become doctors, lawyers or journalists. From our brief encounter, I am confident that with the right opportunities they are all capable of doing just that.

UK Members of Parliament Gillian Keegan and Layla Moran in Tanzania.
Layla Moran MP and Gillian Keegan MP make bread with young people – part of one of our job training programmes in the camp.

Unfortunately, this is not the reality for the tens of thousands of other children in the camp who are still out of school.

Globally, the figures make for hard reading: only 22% of refugees even make it to secondary school – for girls the figure is even lower.

For too long, education has not been seen as life-saving. Yet, when I spoke to girls and their parents in Ndutu, education was what they wanted more than anything. With refugees often in camps for 10, 15 or even 20 years, education is their key to a better future.

World leaders are waking up to this. The creation of the Education Cannot Wait Fund and the 2018 G7 Leader’s Declaration on Girls’ Education are good examples.

But it was clear to me that we still have a long, long way to go to ensure that girls like those I met at Hope Secondary School are able to realise their dreams and ambitions.

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