Burundi is a country in East Africa that shares borders with Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. The country’s civil war has left Burundian refugees in a state of emergency.
The tumultuous civil war, which occured from 1993 to 2006, culminated in the parliamentary election of Hutu rebel leader Pierra Nkurunziza. Events similar to those that triggered the war, which claimed 300,000 lives, have once again come into focus.
Although Burundi’s constitution limits presidential incumbency to two terms, President Nkurunziza expressed desire to seek a third term, aggravating opposition groups severely.
A 2015 coup exacerbated the issue further. The power struggle between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnicities contributed to the discord. Although Nkurinziza received 79 percent of the vote, the crisis led to bloodshed and mass emigration, which has crippled Burundi and left many impoverished.
The following 10 facts about Burundi refugees describe their plight:
- As highlighted by the 2008 U.N. Human Development Index, Burundi ranks 167 out of 177 countries, with a concurrent rural poverty rate of 68.9 percent.
- More than 250,000 Burundian refugees have fled to neighboring countries. Moreover, Tanzania alone is collectively home to 144,000 Burundian refugees.
- The Nyarugusu and Nduta refugee camps in Tanzania have reached maximum carrying capacity, and the Mtendelli refugee camp now has to house the surfeit.
- Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has played a pivotal role in combating the spread of malaria among Burundian refugees and addressing mental health problems. One in two MSF patients in the Tanzanian refugee camps have malaria.
- Attackers from Burundi’s ruling party have gang raped and ostracized women, especially female family members of assumed opposition groups. The problem has been widespread in refugee camps.
- According to UNHCR, an estimated $134 million is needed to effectively respond to Burundi‘s plight and safeguard the needs of Burundian refugees. However, only $46 million has been raised by donors.
- The Brethren Disaster Ministries have provided grants to help the Brethren Church of Rwanda carefully maneuver and support the influx of Burundian refugees into Rwanda. The grants will provide emergency food and supplies to hundreds of families.
- The U.N. Security Council has agreed to deploy 228 police forces to monitor and ease the situation in Burundi‘s capital, Bujumbura. Despite this decisive move, the U.N. still needs to seek approval from the Burundian government and cope with the protests that have emerged as a result of the decision.
- Many Burundian refugees want an outlet for their products and a way to market their goods. Handcraft cooperatives at Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda have benefited from UNHCR guidance and aid. Most of these cooperatives are spearheaded by women, who now have the opportunity to express their culture and sell their products.
- The UNHCR has made great headway with regards to promoting education in refugee camps. A major plan is in the works to set up a university in Mahama camp.
These 10 facts showcase the plight of Burundian refugees. The balance of power between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnicities in military and government institutions is fragile. Keeping it in check is the objective of the international community and Arusha Accords.
– Shivani Ekkanath