Fairfield, Connecticut - The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Wednesday, July 1, announced in Dar es Salaam that it was expecting the number of Burundian refugees in Tanzania to increase from the current 70,000 to between 250,000 and 500,000 as a result of the continued volatile situation related to the presidential elections in Burundi, scheduled to be held on July 15.
Since the beginning of June, approximately 250 new arrivals were recorded in Kigoma, the western region of Tanzania, each day. But over the last week this number has risen substantially. In the last three days of June alone, over 6,500 new refugees have entered Tanzania, according to official figures.
The situation at the border between Tanzania and Burundi is already tense and we are set to see this escalate as the July 15 presidential election date approaches. The refugee crisis that started in early May has continued to worsen, with a steady stream of new refugees entering Tanzania. New arrivals are reporting increasing violence in rural Burundi. International Rescue Committee (IRC)'s country director, Elijah Okeyo, said: “Eighty percent of Tanzanian refugees interviewed by the IRC said they witnessed a civilian being killed before fleeing to Tanzania. Many are arriving at Nyaragusu camp with little or no luggage as they had to flee immediately or escape in the middle of the night.”
With the refugee camp in Nyarugusu desperately overcrowded as the new influx of 70,000 Burundians have been combined with 60,000 Congolese refugees already living there, refugees have had to use school buildings and churches as shelters and many more housed in mass shelters. A total of 10,867 refugees are living in schools, which resulted in children being unable continue their education. This is set to continue, depriving children of any sense of normalcy on the back of their recent stressful journey and uncertainties of the current situation.
Save the Children, Plan International and IRC recognize that this humanitarian crisis has the potential to spiral out of control, with the risk of destabilizing the whole region. Although the difficulties in Burundi are essentially political, such instability in this part of the world has the possibility of leading to ethnic tension and conflict, which as we have seen in the past, has a devastating impact on human life. As with all disasters, children are always the most vulnerable.
Save the Children, Plan International and IRC are working in a coordinated response to this crisis focusing primarily on child protection and education needs. The focus now is on doing everything possible to scale up our activities and prepare for the new influx.
“If UNHCR's latest predictions are correct, we are looking at a serious humanitarian crisis and it is imperative that we prepare to meet the needs of children and other highly vulnerable groups as soon as they arrive into Tanzania,” said Plan International Tanzania acting country director, Elena Ahmed. “About 50 percent of the refugees entering are children, many of them separated from their families or unaccompanied,” she continued. “This presents a massive protection risk.”
Every day unaccompanied children are arriving in the camp traumatized from what they have seen and experienced in Burundi. They are fleeing violence and instability in their home country but are arriving in overcrowded refugee camps, where services are already stretched to their breaking point. Child-friendly spaces by the three agencies provide a degree of safety, protection and psycho-social support but these need scaling up to provide the services that the increasing number of vulnerable children need and deserve.
A new camp site is soon to be announced to accommodate 40,000 of the existing 70,000 refugees. “We hope that the shift will be phased so that basic services are up and running before refugee families are taken to the new site,” said Save the Children's country director, Steve Thorne. “As agencies ready to support, we call for early information on plans for the new camp so that we can best coordinate our efforts to support the refugee move to the new area.”
“The risk is that we find ourselves in a situation where vulnerable families, and especially children, are left further traumatized in difficult living conditions. One site may well not be enough for the high number of refugees expected and overcrowding could lead to further outbreaks of cholera and other communicable diseases. We urge UNHCR and the Government of Tanzania to identify additional sites early, in order to better prepare for increased flows of men, women and children who will be in urgent need of help when they cross the border,” he said.
About Plan International:
Plan International is an independent child rights organization committed to enabling vulnerable and marginalized children to be free of poverty. By actively connecting committed people with powerful ideas, we work together to make positive, deep-rooted and lasting changes in children's and young people's lives. For over 75 years, we have supported girls and boys and their communities around the world to gain the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to claim their rights, free themselves from poverty and live positive fulfilling lives.
About International Rescue Committee (IRC):
The IRC helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future. In Tanzania, IRC has been supporting refugees and host communities for over 20 years. IRC is currently responding to Burundian crisis by providing life-saving assistance to new arrivals through protection and primary health services at border entry points and protection services in the camp.
About Save the Children
Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on and .