Burundi refugees live in squalor in Tanzanian camps, but they still prefer life there

Saturday January 02 2016

Burundian refugees await registration at the Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania. AFP PHOTO | STEPHANIE AGLIETTI

The post-election stalemate in Burundi continues, even as the talks mediated by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni were revived on December 28 in Entebbe.

At least 87 people were killed on December 11 in renewed attacks in Bujumbura.

On December 17, the African Union Peace and Security Council authorised the deployment of an African Prevention and Protection Mission to Burundi (MAPROBU).

The 5,000-strong force including military and police will be tasked with protecting civilians and creating the conditions for dialogue.

But there have been rising concerns over the humanitarian situation in the country, with relief organisations calling for urgent help.

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Unicef have warned of the displacement of people and food insecurity and the risk of a full-blown humanitarian crisis if no progress is made on the political front.


They said that children are bearing the brunt of the violence in Burundi, noting that many have been killed, wounded and arbitrarily detained, while many more are living with the constant fear of violence.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 225,000 Burundians have fled the country since April 1, 2015 to the neighbouring countries of Tanzania, Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda, 54.2 per cent of them being children below 17 years.

The latest Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) issued by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for the provinces of Kirundo and Makamba indicates that almost 15,000 people have been displaced internally. There have been additional reports of displacement within the city of Bujumbura.

According to the UN agencies, the figures cannot be confirmed through assessment due to the security situation in the capital and the reluctance of people to give out information for fear of being linked to a political agenda. This continues to complicate efforts by humanitarian agencies to respond to the needs of the displaced people and their host communities.

Nyarugusu camp

The EastAfrican visited the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Kasulu district in western Tanzania, where Burundians are living in deplorable conditions compounded by the ongoing rains.

On arrival at the camp, the first thing one notices is the lack of water.

The officer in charge of the camp, Sospeter Boyo, said aside from the physical trauma, at least 800 refugees at the camp have been diagnosed with psychiatric problems.

Some of the refugees say they are living with the trauma of seeing their relatives abducted and killed or going missing.

He said the first 36 refugees arrived at the camp on April 1 but as the Burundian presidential election drew closer in July 2015, the camp started registering 2,000-3,000 arrivals daily.

The camp was designed to host just 50,000 people but today there are about 150,000.

Before the Burundians arrived, the camp hosted refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who fleeing harassment by the Mai Mai rebels.

Mr Boyo said there were 63,000 refugees from DRC and by October 86,000 Burundians had been registered.

The crowding in the camp has forced the authorities to send the new arrivals to Nduta camp in the nearby Kibondo district.

The camps lack hygiene as there is an acute water shortage. The refugees have no firewood and their makeshift shelters cannot withstand rainstorms.
The crowded living conditions leave the camp’s residents prone to communicable diseases.

“Bathing is a luxury,” said one of the refugees, 36-year-old Theresie Bidyanguze, through an interpreter. “The priorities are drinking and cooking. Also, cutting trees is prohibited so we are suffering a firewood shortage.”

The bedding issued at the camp is not enough for the population so some are left to their own devices.

Ezekiah Minani, 22, is happy to be here in spite of the hardships. His parents were killed and he himself was shot thrice. He lived to tell the story, escaping through the DRC to Tanzania. The fate of his sister, who remained in Burundi is still unknown.

In Tanzania, he does not see the prospects of furthering his education, which makes him very sad.

In Tanzania 'a couple of times'

The EastAfrican learnt that some of the refugees have been to Tanzania a couple of times before escaping violence in Burundi.

Nestory Chimpaye, for instance, was born in Tanzania 32 years ago and speaks fluent Kiswahili. He went to primary education in Tanzania and went back to Burundi at the age of 10 after Melchior Ndadaye ascended to power in 1993.

Mr Chimpaye said he was related to the slain leader who was in power for only three months before he was assassinated in October 1993.

He ran away again with his parents to Tanzania and stayed up to 2009, when he chose to go back home. Now, he is mourning one of his children, a son who was abducted and killed. After the incident, Mr Chimpaye fled with two of his children, leaving two in boarding schools run by missionaries in Burundi.

He said there will be more refugees coming into Tanzania because the government’s clampdown on dissidents.

He said three of his close friends were killed just two weeks to the disputed presidential election, which gave Pierre Nkurunziza a third term in office. And then his son was killed and he realised it was time to leave. Now, he vows never to return to Burundi alive. He prefers to live in squalor.