Aid agencies fear disease among 50,000 Burundi refugees by lake
NAIROBI – Up to 50,000 Burundian refugees are stranded in an overcrowded lakeside village on the border with Tanzania, amid mounting tension with local people and fear of disease, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Aid agencies are preparing for the regional crisis to worsen following an attempted coup in Burundi on Wednesday. It is the worst violence to hit the small central African nation since its 12-year civil war ended in 2005.
Roadblocks and the closure of borders have been making it hard for people to flee, agencies said, as protests erupted over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plan to run for a third term.
There is just one 100-year-old German boat transporting 1,200 refugees a day from Kagunga village to the Tanzanian port of Kigoma and it cannot keep up with some 2,000 daily arrivals.
“The real problem that we have at the moment is trying to take these people off Kagunga before we have a major health situation,” said Joyce Mends-Cole, the United Nations refugee agency’s (UNHCR) representative in Tanzania.
Most of the refugees at Kagunga are women and children who have been sleeping out in the rain, said the International Rescue Committee’s Tanzania country director, Elijah Okeyo.
They are squeezed into a confined space with a shortage of latrines and drinking water in a village that is normally home to 12,000 people, he said.
“The situation is desperate,” he said. “There are a lot of sick people.”
The IRC is providing medical care to women giving birth and children with diarrhea and malaria.
Mends-Cole said there could be 50,000 people at Kagunga, on a remote peninsula at Burundi’s southern tip, which would take the number of Burundians who have fled the country since late April to over 100,000.
There are 26,000 refugees in Rwanda, 17,000 in Nyarugusu refugee camp further inland in Tanzania and more than 7,000 in Democratic Republic of Congo, the UNHCR said.
Agencies said that harassment at roadblocks by youths supporting Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party over the past few days had made it hard for people to move around.
“Burundian authorities are really putting up a lot of roadblocks and other obstacles,” said Martina Pomeroy, UNHCR’s spokeswoman in Rwanda. “There might be refugees that want to enter Rwanda but they are not able.”
There were fewer than 100 new arrivals in Rwanda on Wednesday, she said, down from 2,000 to 3,000 a day two weeks ago.
Many of the refugees arrived empty-handed, to convince those manning the roadblocks that they were not leaving the country, Pomeroy said.
“They say anyone who is an opponent of the ruling regime is targeted,” she said.
The ruling CNDD-FDD party denies charges that its youth wing is armed and trying to stir violence. – Reuters