With political violence on the rise, Nenette decided she had no choice but to flee her home in Burundi. She gathered her children – a toddler and two teenagers – and launched out for a new life in neighboring Tanzania, unsure of what challenges lay ahead.
Arriving with her family in Dar es Salaam in 2015, Nenette could not find work to provide for her family. They often went without food. She became overwhelmed by a sense of fear regarding her refugee status. “It was hard for me to interact with the community, fearing what might happen if they knew that I am not a Tanzanian” she says.
Finding work was a difficult or even dangerous pursuit. Although Tanzania is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees are required to live in camps where they face severe constraints on their right to move freely and to seek safe and legal employment. As a result, refugees living outside camps are under constant risk of arrest and find it difficult to seek justice or protection. According to a needs assessment conducted by Asylum Access Tanzania (AATZ), even if refugees obtain refugee status, some fear that the stigma of being labeled a refugee will limit their ability to look for employment appropriate to their skills and experiences.
Nenette was granted refugee status but was expected to live in a camp. A community member suggested she see Asylum Access Tanzania. AATZ assisted her in securing a special permit to reside in Dar es Salaam where she would be closer to work opportunities. She decided to attend a workshop on “changing business mindsets” with AATZ’s Refugee Livelihoods Program. There she demonstrated a knack for gardening and interior design, and through AATZ was able to enroll in a program at HOMACK College to hone her decoration skills.
Slowly, Nenette built confidence and recognized an opportunity to apply her skills at her church where they often held various events. She reached out: “When I decided to interact with [my church members] as a result of the workshop I found out that I was wrong and fearing for nothing, because the Tanzanian community is so friendly.”
Nenette has been enrolled at the college for four months and has learned quickly. Her teachers expressed their confidence in her ability to lead a decoration project, and at church she was recently given a leadership role on the decoration team and has been managing the church’s gardening activities. She has even begun teaching others her trade and has developed a community among her fellow church members. With time and exposure her business has begun to grow. Nenette has started to get requests for decoration services at different community events, and a gardening role at a school in the Kagamboni district. Nenette’s two elder children, now ages 17 and 19, were hired by a local stationery company after being referred by AATZ. Both children are now contributing to the family income.
“I have a group of people from my church that I teach different decoration practices. I even noticed that they also face a lot of challenges like me, challenges like needing money for survival.”
She added, “That gave me the relief that I am not alone.”
AATZ is transforming the human rights landscape for refugees in Tanzania through direct legal services, community legal empowerment programs and engagement with the government and other stakeholders in Tanzania’s refugee rights movement.
Want to contribute to the global refugee rights movement? Find out how to get involved or join us as a Volunteer Legal Advocate.
 As of September 2017, over 400,000 Burundian refugees have fled since the crisis started in 2015, many seeking refuge in neighboring Tanzania. https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/burundi
Photo: Erik Tanner
To protect the privacy of our refugee partners, photographs and names have been changed in this story.