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Burundi: Nearly 1,200 flee for Tanzania since beginning September

Briefing notes

Burundi: Nearly 1,200 flee for Tanzania since beginning September

20 September 2002

Nearly 1,200 fearful Burundian refugees have fled their tiny central African nation for Tanzania since the beginning of September. More than 500 of them have arrived over the last week alone, sparking fears that the intensifying conflict between Burundian military and rebel forces could drive out larger numbers.

The latest arrivals say that the Burundian military personnel is actively blocking people from leaving. They report that there are a big number of people waiting around the villages close to the border for an opportunity to cross. Some of them are out in the open with no shelter on the Burundi side of the border.

Many of the recent arrivals are fleeing the ongoing fighting in the provinces of Ruyigi and Rutana in eastern Burundi and in Gitega, central Burundi. They say many homes have been burnt in the latest round of fighting, which erupted in July.

The recent arrivals are also reporting reprisals by the Burundi military on villagers for allegedly supporting the rebels. Others say the military are harassing young men who are being forced to transport goods for the army. There are also reports of forced conscription into the military and the burning of homes belonging to those who refuse to co-operate.

On Sunday, a group of refugees, among them old women and children, who arrived in Tanzania through the border crossing at Nyakimonomono, said they had fled from villages near the town of Kinyinyi in Ruyigi province. Their homes had been set on fire, forcing them to escape to Tanzania. UNHCR staff at the border confirmed seeing thick smoke billowing in the distance, across the Burundi border. The town of Kinyinyi has been badly affected by the recent conflict, refugees say.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 3,400 Burundian refugees have arrived in Tanzania - more than 30 percent of them during the first half of September. A small number of those arriving in Tanzania said they were former refugees who had repatriated last year or early this year to Burundi.

Meanwhile, the number of refugees returning to Burundi from Tanzania has decreased. Some 600 refugees are going back to Burundi each week with assistance from the UN refugee agency, compared with up to 1,500 per week a few months ago.

As at the beginning of September this year, some 42,650 Burundian refugees had returned home, 25,100 of them with UNHCR transport. More than 18,000 others had gone back on their own. The agency continues to arrange transport twice a week from camps in Tanzania to the relatively safe northern Burundi provinces of Muyinga and Ngozi.

The drop in return figures from Tanzania has been attributed to the upsurge in conflict between the military and rebels in Burundi. The recent outbreak of meningitis in Burundi may also have contributed to the drop in numbers.

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