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Hardship for refugees at Zimbabwe’s Tongogara refugee camp 

HARARE, (Xinhua) -- Clutching her one-year old baby, Tendai Ndlovu dashes out of her tent to attend to a pot on cooking fire.

The cooking place is just three meters away from a shallow pit latrine, and there is a heavy stench around the area.

Ndlovu, however, appears unconcerned about the poor sanitation and is happy that at least she is living peacefully in Zimbabwe.

Ndlovu is among 900 refugees that have been displaced by raging war in Mozambique and are staying at Tongogara Refugee Camp in Zimbabwe since December 2016.

She told Xinhua that while living conditions at the camp are harsh, she is grateful that she and her family managed to escape the war and seek shelter in Zimbabwe.

“I am happy that we are safe here but we are living under difficult conditions. I came with nothing and I am living in this small tent with my family of six.

“We are facing a shortage of food, water, clothes, blankets and cooking utensils. Our children are not going to school and we do not have any piece of land to till,” said the 34-year-old Ndlovu.

Tucked away 420 km south east of Harare, Tongogara Refugee Camp is a rudimentary home that is sanctuary to thousands of refugees from several African countries.

The population is largely comprised of single women, single men, the elderly, chronically ill people, and unaccompanied minors with some 5 percent of assisted families being child-headed households.

The camp is an epitome of hope to refugees who have fled war and civil strife in different parts of Africa, and who remains in need of assistance to meet their most basic needs.

Zimbabwe established the camp in 1980 when it attained independence from Britain to accommodate Mozambican refugees who were fleeing war between forces from the Mozambican government and the opposition Mozambican National Resistance Movement (RENAMO).

By 1995, the Zimbabwean government had voluntarily repatriated all the Mozambicans, who numbered about 65,000, back to their country after peace had been restored.

This resulted in the camp being closed for three years before it was re-opened in 1998 after the country started to receive a high number of asylum seekers from other parts of Africa.

According to camp administrator Misheck Zengeya, Tongogara Refugee Camp is currently home to about 10,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan.

It also accommodates refugees from Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.

The refugee number shot above 5,000 in 2015 due to escalating turmoil in countries such as the DRC, Burundi and Mozambique.

Zengeya said the camp had witnessed a sharp increase in the number of refugees from Mozambique in the last few months due to renewed fighting between RENAMO and government forces.

This had exerted pressure on existing facilities and more resources were now required to meet the needs of the increasing refugee population at the camp, he said.

According to Zengeya, 900 Mozambicans were granted refugee status and started staying at the camp in December 2016, and between 20 and 30 asylum seekers are arriving at the camp spontaneously from the strife-torn neighboring country each week.

He said about 4,500 Mozambicans had also fled the war into Zimbabwe, and were living with their relatives along the border.

These were expected to be relocated to Tongogara Camp in the coming months as the government deems that they pose a security risk and should be moved to the refugee camp.

While living conditions are generally poor for the refugee population at Tongogara, the conditions are much more severe for the 900 Mozambicans.

Since they arrived in December, they have been staying in tents provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They do not have access to clean water and ablution facilities, and face food shortages.

Their children have not yet been enrolled into school, except for the infants who are attending pre-school.

Zengeya said the authorities were waiting for the rains to stop so that they could start assisting the refugees to build proper home structures.

“As government, we have provided land for these people to build houses but we are appealing to donors to assist with cement so that the immigrants can build strong structures.

“This year about 300 houses for the refugees were destroyed by the heavy rains because the bricks they use to construct their houses are moulded with mud only,” Zengeya said.

After refugee population swelled beyond 5,000, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) took over food distributions in the camp in January 2015, subsequently changing to cash based transfers in order to allow refugees to make their own purchase decisions about food and basic necessities.

On a monthly basis, the WFP provides cash-based transfers, sufficient to meet 100 percent of a refugee’s energy requirements while new arrivals are receiving an in-kind transfer (until they are registered) to cover the potential gap between arrival and the start of regular distributions.

However, the UN agency is facing funding shortages for its refuge aid program, and is appealing for 2.5 million U.S. dollars to sustain its life-saving food assistance to this vulnerable population.

The additional funding would enable WFP to provide full food assistance to about 15,000 refugees for nine months from April to December 2017.

“The funding will allow WFP to provide cash transfers for the general refugee population, equivalent to a complete food basket consisting of maize meal, pulses, oil, sugar and salt, which is intended to meet a person’s full daily energy requirements based on a 2,100 kcal per day diet,” according to WFP.

Italian aid agency Terre Des Hommes (TDH) that is proving health, education and child protection support at the camp said it was failing to cope with increased demand for services due to the influx of Mozambican refugees.

“Currently more than 200 Mozambican children are not going to school because of a shortage of facilities and teachers. Right now we have children who are learning under trees and we have this additional population from Mozambique that needs to go to school,” lamented Wlifred Mapiko, the program coordinator for TDH.

Teacher in charge at Tongogara Primary School Tracy Mutema said the school, with a total enrolment of 1,694 pupils, was facing a severe shortage of classrooms, resulting in children learning under the trees.

“We have a challenge of shortage of classrooms and we need more teachers, teacher accommodation, exercise books and textbooks,” she said.

There is a secondary school at the camp, which also requires additional resources due to the growing refugee population.

Mapiko said the Italian aid agency required additional resources for the clinic such as drugs and more staff.

Sister in-charge at the clinic Rugare Marambire explained that due to the influx of Mozambican refugees, additional nurses, medicines and financial resources to expand the clinic were now required.

The refugee population in Tongogara Camp was projected to rise to 15,000 by end of 2017 due to increasing hostility in Mozambique and the Great Lakes Region.

“Refugee funding from traditional sources is declining but the refugee problem is increasing. We therefore need to focus on creating partnerships to get more resources to handle the growing refugee population,” he said.

Sakulala added that in the face of dwindling resources, WFP and UNHCR were prioritizing livelihood projects in the camp to ensure the refugees become self-reliant.

Goal Zimbabwe is one aid agency running several livelihood projects aimed at building resilience and capacitating the refugees to attain self-sustenance.

However, the livelihoods program was being hampered by shortage of farming land, said Goal Zimbabwe senior field officer Tichaona Gadzikwa.

He said due to shortage of farming land, only half of the households numbering 1,023 were participating in the livelihoods program which includes poultry and piggery projects as well as crop farming.

“Altogether the land size is just 25 hectares of irrigated land and the plots per household are very small, about 0.05 ha and this is not sufficient for families to grow enough food,” said Gadzikwa.

He said Mozambicans were not involved in the livelihoods program due to shortage of land.

“We are however trying to come up with a community nutrition and market gardening project for them,” he said.

The organization was also working on diversifying from agro-based projects into value addition projects.

While some refugees, especially those from DRC who have stayed longer at Tongogara, express no interest of going back home, many Mozambicans are keen to go back home when the political situation stabilizes.

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