Burundi violence worsening refugee crisis in Uganda

Burundi refugees at a camp in Rwanda/Photo Daniel S. Ntwari

Burundi refugees at a camp in Rwanda/Photo Daniel S. Ntwari

Aid agencies in Uganda are expecting an influx of up to 15,000 refugees from Burundi in the coming weeks, as the political situation in Bujumbura deteriorates.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 people have already fled the country, to Tanzania, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A significant number of these refugees are now reportedly leaving Tanzania for Uganda because of overcrowding and now a fresh cholera outbreak on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Earlier this week, at least 700 refugees arrived at the Nakivale refugee camp- Uganda’s largest settlement, in only a day. And Burundians now make up roughly 5,000 of the camp’s 63,000 refugees, which also hosts Rwandan and Congolese refugees.

If the camp is the first point of call for many arrivals, not everyone wants to go there. “I can’t go to Nakivale,” Gasirabo Souvenir, one of the refugees told this website. A Burundian refugee, he fled his country late April, when anti-government protests began to get violent. He says he was forced to flee after pro-government militia Imbonerakure urged him to join them in operations against the opposition. Now his life is in danger. The intimidation he experienced back home, has followed him to Uganda.

“There are informers working for President Nkurinziza who have infiltrated the camp. I can’t go to Nakivale, because I fear that they will kill me or send me back to Burundi,” he intimated to Afrika Reporter.

Ugandan authorities have brushed aside security concerns within its refugee camps, claiming to be at the forefront of the asylum process.

“I don’t think this fear is warranted.” Andrew Mbokori, who heads the UNHCR sub-office in Mbarara, western Uganda, told this website.

“Refugees are supposed to report any protection situation or issue to Ugandan authorities… We have a lot of refugees from Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia. And we don’t have these type of issues at the moment,” he said.Uganda has been generous in its resources, providing numerous amenities such as education, water and healthcare to the new arrivals, mainly women and children.

But the camp’s resources are not infinite, and aid agencies have called on donors to contribute $10 million to deal with the influx of refugees, expected to reach 15,000.