The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed that over 105,000 Burundian people have crossed the border to find sanctuary from politically-driven violence in Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura.
The Burundian political sphere was rattled in late April when President Pierre Nkurunziza was nominated by the CNDD-FDD party to serve a third term, which his political opponents believe to be unconstitutional. As a result of the debate, Bujumbura was flooded with protests in the following weeks, culminating in a shot-lived coup d’état on May 13.
Despite the coup d’état ceasing within 24 hours, violence continued into the rural regions, threatening a large majority of rural Burundian people. The Imbonerakure tribe ravaged towns by marking red paint on the houses of those who they intended to kill, causing thousands of families to flee the country.
UNHCR correspondent Adrian Edwards reported, “Many of these [people] have crossed into Rwanda (25,004), but over the last week we have also seen a sharp increase in people seeking asylum in Tanzania (17,696) after entry restrictions there were lifted. In addition, almost 8,000 people have crossed into South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In all these cases, women and children, including a large number of unaccompanied children, are in the majority.”
The reported number of 17,000 seeking refuge in Tanzania has since increased to over 70,000. A large majority of those traveling to Tanzania have landed in Kagunga, a border village on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. This small village can only be reached by boat, due to a treacherous mountain range surrounding the village on the Tanzanian side.
This small village quickly reached its maximum capacity, and the Burundian people have been crammed into short-stocked refugee camps, without adequate sleeping space, food, or sanitation. These refugee camps are overwhelmed by the rapid out-pour of people. As a result, a recent cholera outbreak has infiltrated the water supply, killing as many as 31 refugees in the past few weeks and causing acute diarrhea in 3,000 more.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is working to open re-hydration checkpoints and cholera treatment centers in both Kagunga and Kigoma. Refugees are currently being fast-tracked to Kigoma, where there have been no reported cases of cholera. The transfer of pregnant women, children, elderly, and the sick is a top priority.
In Kigoma, local aid has assembled a sort of “pit stop” location where refugees can stay a few days while being registered and receiving medical care before being transferred to another refugee camp called Nyarugusu. With the help of UNHCR and other contributors, more than 18,000 refugees have been safely moved to Nyarugusu so far.
Regarding the Cholera outbreak, MSF stated, “Epidemics tend to occur where living conditions are poor: where there is overcrowding, inadequate access to safe drinking water or proper latrines, and insufficient rubbish collection. Improved hygiene practices and treatment are important components of the cholera response. The provision of safe water and effective sanitation remain essential during all outbreaks.”
– Hanna Darroll