Worsening humanitarian conditions for Burundian refugees in Rwanda

Thousands of Burundians who have fled possible violence related to the forthcoming elections, are crowded into Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda’s Eastern province near the border with Tanzania, living in increasingly squalid conditions and at risk of contracting measles and other diseases, according to humanitarian agencies.

Due to the worsening situation, the UN Refugee agency is continuing to distribute emergency relief which comprised mainly of food, shelter, medication and water to new arrivals via different border posts between the two countries.

While Rwandan authorities decided to move the camps to a “better location”, which was later described as a larger space, the camp’s population over the past two months has risen from 4, 000 to 25,000, says the UN Refugee Agency, putting a severe strain on services.

“Currently, the number of refugees has reached a level where more urgent actions need to be taken to build more tents and provide sanitation facilities such as toilets and new wells,” Jean Claude Rwahama, the director of refugees in the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Affairs.

When Xinhua visited the camp none of the existing water points were working properly and trucked-in water was insufficient, forcing women and children to walk some few kilometers away to fetch water from the neighboring Kagera river.

Meanwhile, even if most of residents in camps receive regular UN-supplied food rations, as well as access to rudimentary healthcare, conditions are poor, according to the UN Refugee Agency country representative in Rwanda, Saber Azam.

Whereas the message from the Burundian authorities to the refugees is that the situation is conducive to their return, both Rwandan government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers these as people for whom it would not be simple to return very soon.

However, Viviane Mukamugenzi, a mother of four living in Mahama refugees camps told Xinhua that it was not a good time to go back home. She said that despite worsening living conditions in camps, repatriating “would be very painful” and that she was still hoping she could stay

Observers say the tension in Burundi has been exacerbated by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, in violation of the Arusha peace and reconciliation deal that brought the country’s civil war to an end.

Burundians have been demonstrating against his name appearing on the ballot for a third time.