Tanzania refugee camps tense as Burundians flee poll violence: agencies

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 21, 2015 2:00 PM

By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tanzanian refugee camps and relief workers, struggling to help tens of thousands of Burundian refugees, fear a new wave may pour across the border because of the violence that hit Burundi's presidential election on Tuesday, aid agencies said.

A policeman and an opposition official died in violence marring the start of the election, in a nation already hit by opposition boycotts and protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term.

Opponents of Nkurunziza say his bid violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended Burundi's civil war in 2005, yet the president, almost sure to win given the opposition boycott, cites a court ruling saying he can run again.

Some 80,000 Burundian refugees have entered Tanzania since Nkurunziza announced in April he would seek a third term, the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children said.

New arrivals may not get the support they need as aid groups are stretched thin by the refugees already there.

The Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania's Kasulu district, one of the largest camps in the world and also home to some 60,000 Congolese refugees, needs more doctors, nurses, social workers and mobile health clinics, according to the aid agencies.

The Congolese fled violence in eastern Congo when conflict there among Rwandan groups followed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

"Refugee families arriving in Nyarugusu camp have been turning up in much worse shape than they were before, many having suffered extremely stressful journeys to reach here," said Save the Children's Tanzania country director Lisa Parrott.

The camp's specialist unit for severely malnourished children has been inundated as acute child malnutrition cases reach critical levels, according to the aid agency.

Dozens of malnourished Burundian children have other health problems including malaria, pneumonia, worms, anaemia and diarrhea, while the number of children attending emergency feeding programs is also spiralling, Save the Children said.

Tensions are running high between the new arrivals and the refugee population from the Democratic Republic of Congo, with rivalries intensifying over food and supplies, and concern mounting that the use of schools to house the new refugees will hinder education for the camp's children, the aid group said.

"The current infrastructure at Nyarugusu camp can't support thousands more without extra resources and an alternative new camp site," said the International Rescue Committee's Tanzania country director, Elijah Okeyo.

Western donors and African states, worried about tensions in a region with a history of ethnic conflict, urged Burundi to postpone the poll. The United States and European states have halted some aid to Burundi, one of the world's poorest nations.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Tim Pearce Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)