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Over 300,000 Burundians have fled to stretched neighbouring countries

Briefing notes

Over 300,000 Burundians have fled to stretched neighbouring countries

23 September 2016

The number of people fleeing violence, threats, extrajudicial killings, abduction, torture and persecution in Burundi has passed the 300,000 mark some 18 months after the political crisis in the central African nation erupted in April last year. 

These people have fled Burundi – principally from Kirundo, Makamba, Bujumbura city, Cibitoke and Rumonge provinces – in search of asylum or international protection. Although departure numbers have generally not been as high as in 2015, there has been a constant flow this year, including more than 20,000 in July and August.

We expect the number of arrivals will continue to rise in the remaining months of this year, but fear that neighbouring Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and aid agencies such as UNHCR will struggle to continue providing adequate shelter, protection and life-saving services. 

The reception capacities of these host countries are severely overstretched and conditions remain dire for many refugees, most of whom are women and children. 

These worrying trends will persist as long as a solution to the political crisis remains elusive, with far-reaching humanitarian consequences in Burundi and the region. To ensure that the refugees receive the assistance and protection they need, UNHCR calls on the international community to maintain efforts for peace and step up support for the countries of asylum, particularly in areas such as shelter, basic services, education, health and livelihoods. 


Tanzania currently hosts 163,084 Burundian refugees, the largest number in the region. In mid-September it was receiving new arrivals at a rate of 324 per day. More than 78% of the new arrivals are women and children.

As the influx continues, UNHCR is in talks with the government to urgently identify a fourth camp site in the west of the country to alleviate the crowding in Nyarugusu (which also houses Congolese refugees), Nduta and Mtendeli camps and to accommodate the new arrivals. 

Resources are desperately needed to provide protection and basic assistance and respond to the urgent needs of refugees including, among others, in education, prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence, child protection and youth programming, psycho-social counselling, and livelihood activities. 


Rwanda is home to more than 81,000 Burundian refugees, over 50,000 of whom live in Mahama camp in the east, with some 30,000 in Kigali and other urban areas. 

Around 70% of the refugees are living in emergency shelters, which are starting to deteriorate. As the number of arrivals continues to rise, UNHCR is urgently working on the construction of more permanent shelters.

Half of the Burundian refugees in Rwanda are children, many of whom arrived unaccompanied or separated from their families. UNHCR and its partners are concentrating on providing family tracing, reunification, and alternative care arrangements for these children. 


At the end of August, Uganda was hosting 41,938 refugees from Burundi, 13,298 of whom have arrived this year. A steady influx of between 1,000 and 3,000 have been arriving each month and most are being hosted in Nakivale settlement, with smaller numbers in Kampala, Kyaka and Oruchinga. 

We work with the government and partners to provide emergency assistance, including food, water, shelter, but our humanitarian response – as in the other countries – is becoming increasingly stretched in the face of growing needs in areas such as health, education and water distribution.

More health clinics are needed so that people do not have to walk long distances to access care or rely on mobile clinics; pipelines need to be laid to distribute water in refugee settlements and cut costs of trucking in potable water; schools and classrooms are urgently needed as well as school materials. 

Democratic Republic of the Congo 

The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen a significant increase in the number of new arrivals from Burundi: 3,925 refugees were registered between July and mid-September, mostly women and children. This compares to 1,773 from April-June. In August, a monthly high of more than 1,650 Burundians refugees were transferred from the border to Lusenda camp, which now hosts more than 21,000 people – well over its capacity for 18,000. 

With the start of the rainy season in late September, many of the emergency shelters constructed in the camp since 2015 need urgent rehabilitation. In the meantime, UNHCR is working closely with the Congolese authorities to identify an additional site near Lusenda, in South Kivu province, to accommodate the new arrivals.  


More than 1,700 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers have arrived in Zambia since April last year, including 715 between January and August this year. Most of the asylum-seekers are in Lusaka awaiting word on their asylum applications. Once granted refugee status, the Burundian refugees will be relocated to either of two refugee settlements, where they are allotted plots of land by the government and receive assistance from UNHCR and partners.


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