As Burundi gears up for elections, more people are fleeing

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

As Burundi readies for its scheduled parliamentary elections on Monday (29 June), UNHCR offices in neighbouring countries have been noting a steady increase in arrivals of Burundian refugees. People tell us they are fleeing the general political instability and election-related violence including small arms and grenade attacks, and arbitrary arrests.

Burundi's political turmoil, which started in early April, has so far seen nearly 127,000 Burundians registering as refugees in neighbouring Tanzania (62,000), Rwanda (45,000), Uganda (8,855), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (10,590), and as far away as Zambia (400). Many more Burundians are thought to have left the country but have not registered as refugees - their number is unknown.

In Tanzania, refugees continue to arrive at a rate of nearly 200 to 300 people per day. They are being transferred to the Nyarugusu refugee camp, which is becoming overcrowded. Before the recent arrival of tens of thousands of Burundian refugees, the camp was already home to more than 60,000 Congolese refugees. It is now hosting nearly 120,000 refugees, making for congested living conditions and stretching services and facilities. UNHCR and partners are working with the Government of Tanzania to urgently identify an alternative site to establish a new camp.

In Rwanda, the number of arrivals has increased sharply over the last few days, with more than 600 refugees crossing the border each day. The registration of refugees in the capital Kigali is also continuing, with some 10,000 Burundians registered thus far. We expect this number to grow as registration expands to Rwanda's second biggest city Butare. More than 30,000 refugees have now been moved to the Mahama refugee camp, which can accommodate a maximum of 50,000 refugees.

In the DRC province of South Kivu, refugees were initially staying with host communities that include Burundian refugees who left the country years ago. Many of the hosts are themselves in poverty, and to be able to offer better protection and assistance services, the arriving refugees are being relocated to Lusenda refugee site. Relocation efforts have been sped up over the last days as a contingency measure for possible more arrivals. The two transit centres at the border area are now empty and ready for use if more people arrive.

Some 150 -200 Burundian refugees are arriving per day in Uganda, while the authorities in Zambia have reported the arrival of some 400 refugees over the last few weeks.

A month ago, UNHCR and 17 partners launched the Regional Refugee Response Plan, asking for US$ 207 million to protect and assist up to 200,000 Burundian refugees. Although the situation in Burundi is deteriorating further and refugee numbers are increasing rapidly, the response plan is only funded at 13 per cent. This leaves crucial activities such as shelter, water, health, sanitation and education seriously underfunded.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Dar-es-Salaam, Stephen Mhando on mobile +255 784 730 424
  • In Kasulu , Massoumeh Farman-Farmaian +255 (0) 784 616 601
  • In Kigali, Erika Fitzpatrick on mobile +250 (0)78 838 9828
  • In Kampala, Charles Yaxley on mobile ++256 (0) 776 720 045
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl on mobile +41 79 255 9213