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Burundi: thousands streaming into Tanzania

Briefing notes

Burundi: thousands streaming into Tanzania

18 October 2002

Thousands of Burundian refugees from Cankuzo Province in eastern Burundi are streaming into neighbouring Tanzania amid growing concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes region.

More than 5,000 Burundian refugees have arrived in Tanzania's Ngara Province since Monday (Oct. 14) and 11,500 since the beginning of October. That's 65 percent of the total new Burundian arrivals in Tanzania so far this year, which now stand at 17,500.

Many of the refugees arriving in western Tanzania over the last few days are at a transit centre managed by UNHCR at Mbuba, close to the border. The centre itself is overflowing with more than 3,700 refugees awaiting transportation to our camps in Ngara. Mbuba's normal capacity is only 400, so we are struggling to cope with the rapid rate of arrivals and UNHCR staff are working to expand the temporary accommodation in Mbuba. The rainy season is, however, making the situation very difficult.

The majority of the new arrivals are women and children and many of them are weak and tired after the long trek from their villages through rough terrain. The majority arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

The new arrivals in Tanzania say they are being forced to leave Cankuzo Province by rebels who are warning of impending conflict in areas of eastern Burundi. The refugees also continue to report reprisals by the Burundian military, who accuse villagers of complicity with the rebels.

Meanwhile, there are reports that an estimated 1,000 more Burundians are massed at the Kobero/Ngara border, many of them with livestock. This group is hesitant to cross into Tanzania, as they fear they will have to give up their animals. They are said to prefer to watch the situation from just inside the Burundi border, but are staying close to the frontier in case they have to flee.

In western Burundi, meanwhile, the number of Congolese refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) fleeing this week's conflicts in south Kivu has risen to just over 9,000. The majority of the asylum seekers are in Burundi's Cibitoke province. Close to 100 have fled to Rwanda's south-western border town of Cyangugu.

By yesterday (Thursday), UNHCR had registered nearly 4,000 Congolese refugees at an old refugee site in Rugombo, Cibitoke province. Another 1,000 at the same site were awaiting registration. We have distributed basic supplies to this group, who arrived on Oct. 14. Food distribution was also expected to begin yesterday (Thursday).

Another group of 3,700 is being cared for at a temporary site further south, in Gatumba, close to the Burundi capital, Bujumbura.

The DRC town of Uvira, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, fell to Mai-Mai militia on Oct. 12. The militia have vowed to push northwards to take the town of Bukavu, on the southern shores of Lake Kivu, while the rebel group, Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) have pledged to recapture Uvira.