Burundi humanitarian crisis worsens as political tensions in country grow

Women wash their cookware as a boat carring Burundian refugees approaches the shore at Mboko, a Congolese fishing village on Lake Tanganyika. Photo: UNHCR/Federico Scoppa

19 May 2015 – The humanitarian crisis caused by the “escalating political tensions” in Burundi has worsened, according to the United Nations which today reported an uptick in the number of Burundian refugees seeking asylum and a deterioration in health conditions at refugee camps receiving them.

Addressing journalists at a press briefing in Geneva earlier this morning, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jašarevic voiced concern about the situation in the village of Kagunga in neighbouring Tanzania where the original population has increased from 10,000 to 90,000 due to the influx in refugees.

The crisis in the village, Mr. Jašarevic added, had recently degenerated following the discovery of several cases of cholera on 13 May.

Kagunga is a small village surrounded by a steep mountain range on the Tanzanian side and is best accessible by boat. Since Burundian refugees started to arrive in Kagunga in early May, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has moved them by boat to Kigoma and from there to the refugee camp in Nyarugusu.

More than 20,000 refugees have either been moved to, or arrived at the refugee camp which, according to UN officials, has already reached the threshold for the maximum number of persons. Additional refugees are now being housed in local schools while awaiting temporary tents. UNHCR confirmed it is taking urgent preventative measures to improve sanitation, hygiene and early detection, as well as a hygiene promotion information campaign.

In Tanzania, the number of refugees arriving in Kagunga has risen sharply over the last few days and the living conditions have become extremely dire. Local immigration authorities reported that over 50,000 Burundians were living rough in Kagunga on the shore of Lake Tanganyika.

Meanwhile, responding to a question at the same briefing, UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said that there were 26,000 refugees in Rwanda, and 111,000 refugees in all three neighbouring countries.

In related news, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters that the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Said Djinnit, met today with Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza.

“Speaking to the press after the meeting, he reiterated the Secretary-General’s condemnation of the attempt to oust an elected government and the need for political dialogue to create conditions for holding free and fair elections,” added Mr. Haq.

He said that Mr. Djinnit continues to hold consultations with political parties, civil society and religious organizations, Government officials and the diplomatic community, with the view to reconvene the political dialogue as soon as possible.

The Special Envoy is expected to brief the Security Council via videoconference tomorrow.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN provides assistance as diarrhoea outbreak leaves seven Burundi refugees dead at Tanzania camp

Related Stories

In-depth Interviews