Growing number of Burundians fleeing pre-election violence

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 17 April 2015, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Pre-election violence and intimidation in Burundi has triggered a recent rise in the numbers of people seeking asylum in neighbouring Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo. In all, more than 8,000 Burundians have sought refuge in these two countries over the past two weeks, 7,099 in Rwanda and the rest in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In Rwanda, the main arrivals have been from Kirundo Province in Burundi's north. More than 60 per cent are children. Many have arrived with very little. Together with Rwanda's Ministry for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs and other partners, we have been providing assistance.

Mounting violence and insecurity are being cited as the reason for fleeing. The Burundians have reported harassment, and disappearance of family members who were associated with the political opposition. People also speak of alleged forced recruitment by the Imbonerakure militant youth group, which has been accused of politically motivated violence.

With political tension rising and more acts of violence being reported UNHCR is concerned that more people may flee over the next weeks in the run up to the general elections. The elections, for the Presidency, Parliament, the Senate and local councils, are scheduled to begin in May 2015 and will end in July 2015.

In early April, a ministerial delegation from Burundi visited the newly arrived asylum-seekers in Rwanda to talk to them and urge them to return home. They responded, however, that they feared for their lives and that they wished to seek refuge in Rwanda.

The asylum-seekers are now being hosted in two reception centers in Nyanza and Bugesera Districts, in southern Rwanda. Because of the proximity of the centers to the Burundian border, UNHCR and the Government of Rwanda are identifying a potential site for a new camp where they can be relocated.

UNHCR and our partners have been providing basic assistance at these centers. Included among the arrivals have been over a hundred pregnant women, and two have given birth at a local health centre. UNHCR has started biometric registration, which is key to the protection of refugees. But it has been a challenge locally to keep up with the high pace at which people are arriving.

Essential items such as plastic sheets, mosquito nets, blankets, mattresses, jerry cans and soap are being distributed to help families cope. As many people fled at night, and on foot, they brought very few belongings and are in need of clothing, which UNHCR will distribute next week. In collaboration with WFP we provide high energy biscuits and hot meals to all newly-arrived families.

Rwanda is already hosting more than 74,000 refugees, mostly from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In DRC itself, 1,060 Burundian asylum-seekers have arrived in South Kivu so far this month. The majority crossed into Uvira and Fizi territories, in the South of the Province. They also told us that they fled in fear of persecution and insecurity linked to Burundi's current political situation. Together with the National Commission for Refugees, UNHCR has set up monitoring teams and reinforced its border monitoring. The newly arrived asylum-seekers are currently living with host families in South Kivu. In addition to the Burundians, 325 of those who've crossed the border into DRC have been returning Congolese nations, also fleeing fear of election-related violence.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards: +41 79 557 91 20
  • In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl: +41 79 255 9213
  • In Kigali, Martina Pomeroy: +250 (0)78 830 2769
  • In Kigali, Erika Fitzpatrick: +250 (0)78 838 9828
  • In Kinshasa, Celine Schmitt on mobile +243 81 700 94 84