Number of Burundian refugees tops 250,000 since April

At least 250,473 refugees have fled to DR Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced run for third term.

Rwanda. Burundian refugees prepare a meal at the Bugesera Reception Centre, Rwanda in this file picture taken in 2015.  © UNHCR/K. Holt

GENEVA, March 4 (UNHCR) - With tension remaining high in Burundi, the number of people who have sought shelter in neighbouring states has now passed the 250,000 mark, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency notes, cautioning that people continue to flee and numbers could rise further.

UNHCR's latest figures show that 250,473 people have been registered as refugees in Democratic Republic of the Congo (21,186); Rwanda (73,926); Tanzania (131,834); Uganda (22,330); and Zambia (1,197) since early April last year, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to run for a third term, which he later won.

The average rate of new arrivals per week is more than 1,000 in Tanzania, 500 in Uganda, 230 in Rwanda and 200 in Democratic Republic of the Congo. There have been small numbers of spontaneous returns.

"Cool heads and continuing international attention are needed to avert further deterioration this year, and the right to leave the country and seek asylum should be respected," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news briefing in Geneva.

"Despite recent high-level efforts to engage the government, we have not seen significant improvement in the security and human rights situation on the ground. The deteriorating economic situation is also a cause for concern which could trigger further displacement," she added.

"Although there has been a slight lull in violence recently in Burundi, refugees arriving in the host countries continue to report human rights violations and difficulty in leaving Burundi. We have also been receiving a growing number of refugee reports about detention and sexual and gender-based violence in transit," Fleming said.

Some 1,700 Burundian refugees have arrived in Democratic Republic of the Congo so far this year, down on the 2,051 of October last year, but still a steady flow. Many are living in poor rural areas, where conditions are harsh, and about two-thirds (14,772) are in Lusenda camp, which is nearing its capacity of 18,000.

Overcrowding is a problem in all host countries, including Tanzania, which has taken in more Burundians than any other. Nyarugusu camp hosts some 143,000 people, including almost 80,000 who have arrived since last April. The decongestion of the camp is a priority and new arrivals go to Ndutu, while others at Nyarugusu are sent to the recently reopened Mutendeli camp. Another camp is planned at Karago, but capacity there and at Mutendeli is limited by insufficient water reserves.

In Rwanda, close to 48,000 Burundian refugees are living in Mahama camp, the largest camp in Rwanda, and more than 26,400 in Kigali and other towns. As the insecurity persists in Burundi they are running out of savings, which will increase their need for assistance. The government, meanwhile, has clarified that it has no plans to relocate Burundian refugees and will keep its doors open.

In Uganda, about two thirds of Burundian arrivals in the past year are being hosted in Nakivale Refugee Settlement (14,876) in the South-West Region, 21 per cent in the capital Kampala, and the remainder in Kyaka II, Oruchinga and Kisoro settlements.

Most are young women and children, with a disproportionately low number of young men. Work is under way to extend settlement areas at Nakivale and other locations. Access to water continues to be a problem and UNHCR is delivering by truck in Nakivale, which is costly and unsustainable.

As with the other asylum countries, funding is a major problem which is affecting access to education, health care, livelihoods, counselling and more, though Uganda allows people to work and travel.

UNHCR requested US$175.1 million for the Burundi humanitarian response in 2016 and has to date received US$4.7 million, or about 3 per cent. We thank donors for their generosity to date while appealing for more urgent funding.


To find out more about our work in Rwanda, please visit the UNHCR Rwanda website.