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By Godfrey Olukya 25-4-2016

One year after the Burundi crisis began, almost 260,000 people have
fled to nearby countries and thousands more could join them over the
rest of the year unless a political solution is found and a descent
into civil war averted.

People continue to arrive in neighbouring countries, albeit in smaller
numbers in recent weeks as it becomes harder to cross borders. Many
asylum seekers or new arrivals report human rights abuses in Burundi,
including torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, intimidation,
forced recruitment by militia, killings and extortion. To date,
259,132 people have fled the country, and we are planning our
humanitarian response based on a figure of some 330,000 refugees by
year’s end.

Continuing international support is needed to help ease the tension
and encourage an inclusive dialogue. With mass returns not currently
expected soon, UNHCR will in the coming year put greater emphasis on
education for children and youth, and encourage refugees to become
self-sufficient at a time when budget shortfalls are leading to cuts
in some assistance.

UNHCR is seeking almost US$175.1 million for its Burundi crisis
operations this year, but has received only US$47.8 million to date,
or some 27 per cent. This means we are struggling to provide even the
basics such as shelter, household items and latrines. The provision of
services such as specialized counselling, care for the disabled and
elderly, protection of the environment and even primary health care
may also fall by the way side.

Meanwhile, the worsening economic conditions inside Burundi could
exacerbate the situation, fuelling further displacement and making
return conditions less favourable. Most of the refugees and thousands
of internally displaced will probably not return home under present
conditions.

But for those in Tanzania (135,941 refugees), Rwanda (76,404),
Democratic Republic of the Congo (22,204) and Uganda (24,583),
conditions in exile are tough and a large influx would make their
lives even more challenging.

These countries continue to generously accept people, despite space
restrictions and capacity problems. But they will need increased
international support to host more people. We urge host countries to
keep their doors open and donors to continue and step up support for
the refugee response.

In Burundi, the situation one year on is tense and marked by sporadic
violence, which has killed more than 400 people since last year.
People continue to cross from the provinces of Ruyigi, Muyinga,
Kirundo, Rutana, Makamba, Rumonge, Bujumbura and Kibitoke to
neighbouring countries, but there are also small numbers of people
returning spontaneously. At least 25,000 people have fled to safer
areas in Makamba, Rutana and Kirundo, but freedom of movement is
becoming harder.

TANZANIA

Tanzania, which hosts the largest number of Burundian refugees, has
been admitting an average 130 people a day. The bulk of the newly
arrived Burundian refugees (more than 71,000) are living in the
overcrowded Nyarugusu camp, which is now one of the largest refugee
camps in the world with 140,540 refugees. Conditions are very
difficult and UNHCR has put a priority on decongesting the camp. The
rest live in Nduta and Mtendeli camps, which were reopened to ease
congestion in Nyarugusu. But Nduta has reached its 55,000 capacity and
from next week new arrivals will be taken to Mtendeli.

Management of the environment is a key issue in Tanzania, with
deforestation in and around the refugee camps a concern for UNHCR. The
government has asked us to stop using wooden poles to erect shelters
and to distribute fuel-efficient stoves.

RWANDA

In Rwanda, new arrivals continue to be registered at a rate of around
130 per week. More and more urban refugees are approaching UNHCR to
move to Mahama camp, in Eastern province, after spending the last of
their savings to keep alive. This adds to the urgent need to construct
more shelters in the camp, which is home to nearly 48,500
refugees—nearly half of whom are children.

UGANDA

In Uganda, the rate of new arrivals has been relatively stable in
recent weeks, averaging between 150-250 week (25-35 a day) in April.
Last week saw 167 Burundian refugees arrive at the Nakivale settlement
in the southwest of the country. Refugees report difficulties crossing
borders, especially without papers.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

The number of Burundian refugees in the Democratic Republic of the
Congo (DRC) has steadily increased. About 900 refugees were registered
in each of the first three months of the year. They included newly
arrived Burundians and those who have been in the country for a while.

Most are staying at the Lusenda camp, which now hosts more than 16,000
refugees and has a capacity for 18,000. Other refugees are staying
with host families in straitened circumstances. To improve conditions,
UNHCR has this year built more shelters and health facilities and
upgraded the water system. Supporting peaceful coexistence between
refugees and the host community is a priority.

END

 

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