NEW YORK/ROME – Increasing numbers of people are fleeing Burundi ahead of parliamentary elections next week which have already triggered weeks of violence and seen thousands seeking refuge across the central African state’s borders, the UN refugee agency said on Friday. UNHCR said its offices in neighbouring countries had noted a steady increase in arrivals of Burundian refugees in recent days with indications the exodus was likely to climb still higher. More than 600 people are now crossing each day into Rwanda, between 200 and 300 into Tanzania, and a further 150 to 200 into Uganda.
In view of the crisis caused by the massive flow of refugees from Burundi, and following the information provided by the Italian Embassy in Dar Es Salaam, the Italian Cooperation pledged a total of 300,000 Euros for assistance to be carried out by UNHCR in Tanzania. The Italian contribution responds to the appeal launched last May by UNHCR together with 17 partners – the Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan – asking 207 million dollars to assist, from May to September, up to 200,000 Burundian refugees fleeing to countries in the region: in addition to Tanzania, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite the deteriorating situation in Burundi, the plan has realised only 13 per cent of its target, leaving crucial services, such as water, health and sanitation, seriously underfunded.
The Italian contribution aims to support UNHCR activities in Tanzania, where in just two months over 60,000 Burundians have requested asylum. The funding will allow primary care interventions in priority areas such as water and sanitation, as well as the supply of basic necessities and shelter for new refugees.
The new arrivals in Tanzania are being transferred to Nyarugusu refugee camp. Before the recent arrival of thousands of Burundian refugees, the camp was already home to more than 60,000 Congolese refugees. “It is now hosting a total of nearly 120,000 refugees, making for congested living conditions and stretching services and facilities,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a press briefing in Geneva.
UNHCR said it was working with its partners and the Government of Tanzania to identify an alternative site to establish a new camp, as well as three new transit centers to facilitate registration and screening activities and transportation to the refugee camps.
“People tell us they are fleeing general political instability and election-related violence including small arms and grenade attacks, and arbitrary arrests,” UNHCR spokesperson Edwards said.
Burundi’s political turmoil started in early April when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would stand for a third term, a decision denounced as unconstitutional by the opposition. So far, nearly 127,000 Burundians have registered as refugees. However, many more are believed to have fled the country, but not registered. Latest official figures show 62,000 in neighbouring Tanzania, 45,000 in Rwanda, 8,855 in Uganda, 10,590 in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and even 400 in faraway Zambia. (AB, June 27, 2015)