Burundi sparks Tanzania refugee time bombfrom ALLOYCE KIMBUNGA in Dar-es Salaam, Tanzania
DAR-ES-SALAAM, (CAJ News) – THE political upheavals in Burundi have presented Tanzania with a perilous refugee catastrophe as camps burst at the seams beyond their carrying capacities and diseases spread freely.
A total of 260 000 Burundian refugees have fled to the surrounding countries mainly Tanzania, the only neighbouring country enjoying stability.
More than one year after the first influx of refugees began, some 1 000 people fleeing unrest in Burundi continue to cross the border to Tanzania each week, through Kagunga, a tiny border village along Lake Tanganyika, as well other entry points in Kigoma region.
Upon reaching Tanzania, these vulnerable members of the displaced community join thousands of their compatriots living in overcrowded and ever-expanding refugee camps.
Two of the three existing sites—Nyarugusu and Nduta—have already swelled to capacity.
A third camp, Mtendeli, is now receiving refugees transferred from the overcrowded Nyarugusu camp, as well as newly arrived refugees from the border areas.
Nduta in Kibondo District opened in October 2015 with a capacity put at Nduta’s capacity has been put at 60 000. Another camp, Mtendeli in Kakonko District, also began officially receiving refugees from Burundi in January this year. About 20 000 refuges have sought sanctuary there.
Both cater exclusively for Burundian refugees.
Nyarugusu, one of the best-known and largest refugee camps since the end of the 20th century, located in the western province of Kigoma, is said to be home to 160 000 refugees mostly Burundi alongside others from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a few Somalis.
Ironically, it was created in 1996/1997 after a multitude of refugees from eastern DRC but it has taken a year of turmoil in Burundi for the Burundian refugees to outnumber the Congolese, who number slightly more than 2 000, at the centre.
In total, Burundian refugees constitute about 70 percent of the total number of refugees in Tanzania with the DRC, also suffering its own upheaval of controversial plans by incumbent Joseph Kabila to extend his term beyond constitutional limits.
A majority of the refugees (42 percent) have fled from Makamba Province.
Mirroring the worsening crisis in the neighbouring Burundi, there are now about 145 000 Burundians living in Tanzania up from 2 800 as President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial re-election in April 2015 sparked a crisis.
“With the flow of refugees continuing at a steady pace, we expect all three camps will have exceeded their capacity by September,” said Dana Krause, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) head of mission in Tanzania.
Krause raised fears the e camps were unable to deal with a sudden influx of refugees, and if the crisis in Burundi saw another flare-up, there was no other site ready.
“In Mtendeli, for example, water provision is already below internationally recognized standards. At this stage, the camp is not able to welcome any major influx of Burundian refugees beyond the current numbers.”
Krause said the humanitarian response one year later in the camps was still lacking, and not enough efforts had been made to increase assistance.
Health facilities are bursting at the seams with malaria patients, while respiratory illnesses and diarrheal diseases linked to the poor sanitary situation are also recurrent. Additionally, mental health needs among this recently traumatized population are significant.
While malaria cases have started dropping slightly, MSF assume there will be another increase soon with rains expected to continue until at least June, making the already damp and overcrowded living conditions even worse, and a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
MSF is providing psychological care in Nyarugusu and Nduta camps and, since the beginning of the year, has reported carrying out 13 795 individual consultations and 1 408 group sessions.
Psychologists reported over 95 percent of refugees attending mental health consultations reported experiencing significant traumatic events before reaching Tanzania and most now suffer from a combination of depression, anxiety and sleeping problems.
“The patients we see in our mental health consultations have all suffered enormous trauma, and are experiencing a wide range of emotional difficulties,” said George Hunter, an MSF psychologist working in Nduta camp.
“They’ve lost everything. Six months ago, they were living a normal life in a city and their kids were going to school. Then they witnessed terrible violence, or lost family members or friends. They were forced to flee, and now they live in a tent, with nothing.”
Among the traumatized is a man who only requested to be identified as Joseph, who resides in Nduta.
“When I arrived I could not sleep, as I was thinking about all of the things that I had left behind. I was thinking that this would be the end of my life. I’m still scared; it doesn’t feel safe yet. I don’t see any future. I hoped to pursue and complete my university studies. But now that I am here, that dream is gone.”
To respond to the Burundi situation across the entire central African region, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates it needs above US$300 million.
So far, donors have offered only $46 million.
Contacted for comment, UNHCR spokesman for Tanzania, Stephen Mhando, confirmed the spread of disease but downplayed the situation.
“The main causes of morbidity in the camps are Malaria, followed by Respiratory Tract Infections and Diarrhoea. The rates are not alarming,” he said.
– CAJ News
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