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Hundreds more flee Burundi as conflict escalates

Hundreds more flee Burundi as conflict escalates

Caught in the fighting between government and rebel forces, nearly 900 Burundians have fled for neighbouring Tanzania in recent days amid reports that civilians are being killed and houses burnt down.
1 October 2002
No way home for Burundian refugees at Mkugwa camp in Kibondo, Tanzania. Hundreds more have arrived in the area in recent days.

KIBONDO, Tanzania, October 1 (UNHCR) - Nearly 900 Burundians have fled to neighbouring Tanzania in recent days, with more expected to follow amid reports of heightened fighting, house burning and the killing of civilians in the strife-torn country.

Since September 27, Tanzania has received close to 900 Burundian refugees, many in poor health condition, with children showing signs of malnutrition. The latest arrivals bring the total number of Burundians who fled to Tanzania in September to more than 3,000. Most of them have headed for Kibondo, close to the Tanzania/Burundi border.

The September number is a nearly 10-fold increase from August, when only 350 new Burundian refugees were registered in Tanzania. This year's total so far stands at 5,200.

According to the new arrivals, the conflict between Burundian military and rebel groups in the country is escalating. Some said soldiers had burnt down their homes after accusing them of complicity with the rebels. Others whom UNHCR spoke to during the weekend said that before fleeing they had seen military helicopters flying around the commune of Kinyinya in eastern Burundi's Ruyigi province.

Yet other refugees reported fleeing after a September 10 massacre in Kirambi village of Itaba commune in Gitega Province, central Burundi. Some said they helped bury some 100 bodies before leaving for neighbouring Tanzania.

Many of the new refugees said they were leaving Burundi after a period of internal displacement inside the country. Others reported they had previously been in camps in Tanzania and had returned home last year or early this year, but then decided to leave again.

Meanwhile, the reverse flow of Burundian refugees has dropped dramatically. Last week, the UN refugee agency assisted 365 Burundians in Tanzanian camps to return to their homes, mainly in northern Burundi. In recent weeks, an average of 600 refugees have returned home each week, compared with up to 1,500 per week a few months ago. More than 45,000 Burundian refugees have returned home since the beginning of the year, 25,000 of them with UNHCR assistance.

The UN refugee agency is only facilitating the return of refugees to relatively safe parts of northern Burundi.

Tanzania is hosting some 350,000 Burundian refugees in camps. Nearly half a million others are living on their own outside refugee camps in Tanzania.