Con­cern mounts over Bu­rundi refugees


AS THE world yes­ter­day marked World Refugee Day, the UN drew at­ten­tion to the Nyaru­gusu refugee camp in Tan­za­nia, which is the third largest in the world.

Bu­rundi refugees in Tan­za­nia alone are es­ti­mated at 237 393 out of a to­tal of 423 056 recorded refugees in the re­gion. The UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the camps in Tan­za­nia were over­crowded as peo­ple con­tinue to flee atroc­i­ties by Bu­rundi’s mili­tias.

Sixty per­cent of the refugees ar­rived be­tween June last year and this month, as the youth wing of Bu­rundi’s rul­ing party known as Im­bon­er­akure in­creased pa­trols and hunted op­po­nents.

Im­bon­er­akure mili­tia are ac­cused of rape, se­cretly killing op­po­nents, tor­ture and other atroc­i­ties, say UNHCR in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Many refugees come from the eastern part of Bu­rundi, where the mili­tias are par­tic­u­larly ac­tive.

“The great­est jump in refugee flows comes from Bu­rundi’s eastern prov­inces, where Im­bon­er­akure mo­bil­i­sa­tion, pa­trols, roadblocks, re­cruit­ing and at­tacks have been con­cen­trated,” World Re­lief said.

The Bu­rundi gov­ern­ment is not pre­cise about the num­ber of refugees who have left the coun­try. Of­fi­cially, be­tween 200 000 and 250 000 fled the coun­try over “ru­mours”. How­ever, the gov­ern­ment says 150 000 of those who fled re­turned home.

Last week, Bu­rundi faced pres­sure from Tan­za­nia, Uganda and other re­gional coun­tries to re­spect hu­man rights. “This is a great move in the Bu­rundi cri­sis. It is the first time that Tan­za­nia, Uganda, Su­dan and other coun­tries called openly on the regime in Bu­rundi to re­spect hu­man rights,” Gabriel Ru­fyiri, a Bu­run­dian ac­tivist, said from Geneva.

The cri­sis in Bu­rundi has cost the lives of more than 1 200 ac­cord­ing to rights groups, although the Bu­rundi gov­ern­ment claims there have only been 720 vic­tims. UNHCR projects that the num­ber of refugees will rise to 500 000 this year.

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