The remote Nyarugusu refugee camp in Western Tanzania has seen a sharp rise in child refugees from the neighboring country to the east. Children have been flooding over the border to escape violence surrounding the recent elections in Burundi.
The amount of Burundian child refugees arriving to the camp increased from about 1600 at the end of May to approximately 2600 by July 19th.
The children are not just arriving in larger numbers according to Lisa Parrott, interim country manager of Save the Children Tanzania, but they are also reaching the camp in much worse shape physically and mentally, most having walked for days with nothing but the clothes on their backs and no food or water. Many have witnessed atrocious acts of violence in their homes and along the way to Tanzania. Some of the children have even seen their own parents or other family members murdered by militia.
On July 21 2015, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunzizain won re-election after running for a third term. In the wake, violence erupted and gunfire rang out. These elections had been hotly protested with President Pierre Nkurunzizain’s opposition claiming that he was not eligible to run again. After the elections, the opposition boycotted the vote and fighting in the country intensified.
The child refugees arriving at the Nyarugusu refugee camp are not eating properly and are having terrible problems sleeping and interacting with others. About a fifth are infants with severe signs of malnutrition, anemia, malaria, diarrhea and other conditions.
The Nyarugusu camp has become one of the biggest settlements in the world comprised of mostly the Congolese who have lived in the camp since the 1990s. At 60,000 people, the already overcrowded camp has more than doubled with almost 80,000 Burundians entering over the years and the recent influx of children has only made the camp more strained.
The overflow of the population is being housed in churches and schools, causing fears that schools will not be able to operate, starving more children of a valuable education. Competition for resources such as food rations, shelter, cooking facilities and firewood, clothing, health care, and clean water intensifies every day with tensions running high.
Save the Children, an organization working in developing nations to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives, believes that every child has the right to survival, protection, development and participation.
Save the Children is on the ground in Tanzania and, with the help of local partners, are setting up child health services such as constructing Temporary Learning Centers (TLC) and creating Child Friendly Places (CFP), expected to reach 1200 children.
Life in refugee camps like Nyarugusu is difficult for thousands of people already mired in extreme poverty, but with groups like Save the Children, those seeking refuge from increasing violence in surrounding communities can find some relief and access to basic human needs.
– Jason Zimmerman