Tom’s Story: Sheltering families in Tanzania

Originally from NSW, UNHCR shelter officer Tom Corcoran leads a team of staff and refugees in remote refugee camps in Tanzania to build shelter for tens of thousands of families who have fled Burundi.

“Working with refugees is great for me. I get to give people a house every day,” says Tom.

Shelter is one of the most basic needs that people have when they arrive at a camp.

“The other thing that shelter provides is security and privacy, things that every one of us needs.”

With 2,000 refugees arriving monthly, finding shelter for every individual and family who comes to one of UNHCR’s camps is a big challenge.

Overcoming this challenge is something that Tom and other UNHCR field workers do each and every day.

“Once people are settled in the camp, you can see the difference,” says Tom.

“As soon as they get their shelter or their tent, the atmosphere changes and people are then quite relaxed and you can talk with them quite openly about next steps. But, in that prior stage to people being allocated shelters, it can be quite difficult because they’ve been uprooted.”

“It’s like a cultural triage. They’ve lost everything that they have, and at least giving them a home again gives them some sort of feeling of security.”

Tom is responsible for all the shelters and construction throughout UNHCR’s three camps in Tanzania.

“Tents are very expensive and don’t last very long. We get a longer life span from the family shelters which is a pole construction with plastic sheeting. The occupancy is for about five people.”

“It takes about four sheets of plastic just for one shelter, at about $13 each, and altogether the whole shelter will cost us around $120 to construct. They are very basic, but they’re enough to keep people out of the elements.”

UNHCR works to protect and assist people fleeing war and persecution. A big part of this job is helping to shelter people and families who have been forced to flee their homes.

Learn more about how UNHCR is helping provide shelter for displaced families


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