Switzerland: UNHCR renews warning over challenging Burundi refugee situation

Geneva, Switzerland (PANA) - UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, on Tuesday renewed its concern over the unstable situation in Burundi, which continues to drive people to seek safety in neighbouring countries.

UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told a press briefing in Geneva that since April 2015, some 410,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been forced to flee their homes and these numbers are still rising.

He said arriving refugees continue to cite human rights abuses, fear of persecution and Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) as reasons for fleeing.

"With no sign of improvement of the political situation, the total refugee population is expected to grow to over half a million by end 2017 – making it potentially the third biggest refugee situation in Africa."

UNHCR says currently Tanzania is hosting the majority of Burundian refugees with some 249,000 already accommodated in three overcrowded camps. Rwanda hosts some 84,000 refugees with another 45,000 in Uganda and some 41,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

UNHCR has, meanwhile, updated its funding needs for the Burundi situation to US$250 million from US$214. "Resources are badly needed to provide emergency assistance to the new arrivals and proper support to their hosts. UNHCR has so far received only two per cent of the required funds," it said.

Baloch said living conditions for refugees in neighbouring countries are extremely difficult as more arrivals are over-stretching the reception capacity in refugee camps, especially in Tanzania, Rwanda and the DRC.

He stressed that urgent funding is needed to upgrade and construct new settlements to decongest the current ones and provide basic services.

Education of refugee children is also severely affected with school classes unable to accommodate the number of students. In Tanzania, there is a need to construct over 600 new classrooms, as many children attend classes under trees.

UNHCR said in DRC, for instance, the transit centres are unable to host incoming refugees, forcing them to live in extremely poor conditions, often without shelter. Under-funding is hampering UNHCR’s efforts to develop a newly identified refugee camp site in Mulongwe in DRC’s South Kivu region.

It said overcrowded camps further expose refugees – especially women and children to many risks. UNHCR and partners have been pointing to the protection and health risks and the risk of a new cholera outbreak.

UNHCR said smaller numbers of Burundian refugees have also fled to Kenya and into Southern African countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa.  

"UNHCR renews its call to donors for continued support to countries hosting Burundian refugees. We are also repeating our appeal to the neighbouring countries to allow continued access to those fleeing the situation in Burundi and not to return refugees against their will," it said.
-0- PANA MA 23May2017

23 may 2017 10:39:13

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