Burundi: Over 5,000 Rwandans now living in transit centre with capacity for 800
Songore transit centre in northern Burundi is bursting at the seams with the arrival since Sunday of 4,500 Rwandan asylum seekers who were forced to move to the centre after their previous border sites were torn down by the authorities and a second transit centre closed. Many have had to walk to Songore, covering distances of up to 50 km,
Earlier in the week, we expressed concern about the manner in which this relocation was being carried out, and that Songore with a capacity for 800 people, would be totally overstretched with the unforeseen arrivals. Now, over 5,400 people are living at the site in very difficult conditions. The move was the result of a decision last week by the Rwandan and Burundian authorities to group all the asylum seekers in one site to make it easier for them to ensure their safety and conduct an information campaign to try to convince the asylum seekers to return home.
UNHCR and its partners are doing their utmost to improve the situation at Songore and rapidly expand the site. Eight sheds, providing crowded shelter for 1,000 people, have already been built, but we will need at least another two weeks to build enough shelters and latrines to accommodate all the asylum seekers.
In the meantime, 2,800 plastic sheets have been distributed so the asylum seekers can at least cover the temporary shelters of leaves and branches they have built to protect their families. NGOs and UN agencies have been working on the site to build basic infrastructure, provide water, sanitation and health services. During the week, UNHCR has helped transport the asylum seekers who had to walk from the border in the direction of Songore transit centre.
The asylum seekers initially fled to Burundi in early April, citing fears over the 'gacaca' tribunals looking into the Rwandan genocide. But, they also said they were fleeing threats, intimidation, persecution and rumours of revenge and bloodshed. Since early May, the Rwandan authorities have been conducting an information campaign to try to convince the asylum seekers to return home. The total population of Rwandan asylum seekers in Burundi is now estimated at over 8,800 people.