Violence in Burundi, rising refugee numbers in Tanzania

Regine Nibogora and her youngest daughter Stella. Photo: CWS/ Aaron Tate
Regine Nibogora and her youngest daughter Stella. Photo: CWS/ Aaron Tate

LWF/ TCRS assists in overcrowded Nyarugusu camp

BUJUMBURA, Burundi/ NYARUGUSU, Tanzania/ GENEVA, 21 July 2015 (LWI) – As presidential elections commence in Burundi, civil unrest has once again soared in the capital of Bujumbura. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has closed the office for the election period. “I spoke to colleagues in Bujumbura this morning and they informed me that there was heavy shooting all night,” LWF Program Officer for Burundi, Michael Hyden, says.

The LWF has five staff in Bujumbura and 27 in Chankuzo, in the east of the country. “All are accounted for and have been requested to stay at home during the election period, and we have closed the offices in the meantime,” Hyden says. “As of this morning, it seems people in Bujumbura are scared to go out and vote, while in the rural areas the people are preparing to go in voting stations.”

Night terror by youth milita

Meanwhile people continue to flee from Burundi to neighbouring Tanzania, where the Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service (TCRS), an associate program of the LWF, is assisting at the Nyarugusu refugee camp. As of 9 July, there were 76,263 Burundian refugees registered in western Tanzania, with up to 3,000 new arrivals every day.

One of them is Regine Nibogora, a cassava farmer from Rumonge in southwest Burundi. She had a small plot of land and would often work on other people’s farms for extra wages to support her seven young children. She left after she received a late night visit by the Imbonerakure (which translates to “the far-sighted”), the youth militia of the ruling party.

“My neighbor once received a visit from them, during which he refused to pledge allegiance to the ruling party,” she recounts. “He was taken away by the Imbonerakure. We never saw him again.” When the Imbonerakure visited her at night and demanded to know who she had voted for, she decided to leave.

The mother of seven was on her own. Her husband had left the family right after she had given birth to their youngest daughter, Stella, who is now 15 months old. As she could not take all her children, Nibogora, on that same night, entrusted her oldest, a 10-year-old girl, to her sister who intended to flee to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After making sure they had left safely, she took the other six children to the southern province, Makamba, where she and her children boarded a ferry to Tanzania’s Kagunga. She arrived at Nyarugusu on 13 July.

“Only concerned about peace”

TCRS assists the Burundi refugees in Nyarugusu with core relief item such as kitchen sets, a bucket, jerry cans and shelter. The family is sharing a space with 230 other individuals in an extension of the refugee camp.

The day after she arrived to the camp at least 31 soldiers who took part in a failed coup on 13 May were killed in fighting with the security forces in Burundi's Cibitoke and Kayanza provinces near the border with Rwanda. The authorities also said that at least 100 rebels were captured. A large number of the population are expected to boycott today’s elections for fear or in protest.

Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, which has been home to 60,000 Congolese refugees for many years, now has over 127,000 people living there. There is need for water, shelter, sanitation and psychosocial support in the overcrowded camp. The number of refugees is expected to rise to half a million if the situation in Burundi does not change.

“I am keen to return whenever Burundi is peaceful again,” Nibogora says. To her, it does not matter who is in power. “I am only concerned about peace.”

 

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