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Rwanda: 800 plus Burundian arrivals in poor health and severely malnourished

Briefing notes

Rwanda: 800 plus Burundian arrivals in poor health and severely malnourished

11 March 2005

Our office in Rwanda confirms that more than 800 Burundians have fled across the border in the past two weeks, citing what they say are rising tensions in the provinces of Ngozi, Kirundo and Muyinga.

The Burundians, including a large group of Batwa pygmy tribes people as well as some 600 Tutsis, told UNHCR staff in Rwanda that they had not witnessed any actual violence, but had heard rumours. Some reported coming under threat from neighbours.

The new arrivals are now in a settlement near Gikonko in Butare province under the care of the Rwandan government. A number of them are in very poor health and severely malnourished. Northern Burundi has been suffering from severe food shortages due to lack of rain and a poor harvest. The newcomers, however, said that they had not fled because of hunger, but for fear of violence surrounding the electoral period.

One 15-year-old Burundian told our staff that a neighbour's child told him anyone who did not flee would be killed. Asked why she had sent her children to an unknown country, one refugee woman told a UNHCR officer, "better they die from hunger in an unknown country than die under the machetes."

Some 4,000 Burundians crossed into Rwanda last year. About 1,000 of them quickly returned to their homeland. For the 3,000 still in Rwanda, UNHCR built a new camp at Nyamure, in Butare province, where we hope to transfer the new arrivals soon for better protection and assistance.

UNHCR is concerned that the worsening food shortage and reported rise in tensions in northern Burundi may negatively affect the return home of many Burundians. UNHCR repatriated more than 90,000 refugees to Burundi last year, and expects to help 150,000 go home in 2005 from neighbouring Tanzania.