President Uhuru Kenyatta has asked Burundi’s president Pierre Nkurunziza to postpone elections following last week's failed military coup. Kenyatta who is in South Africa attending a session of the Pan African Parliament made a telephone call to Nkurunziza and expressed his concerns even as the military.
The number of Burundians who have fled into Tanzania has risen to over 70,000, with relief agencies warning that thousands more were seeking to cross the border.The number has soared from just below 15,000 a week ago. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says the 70,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania are among 105,000 people who have fled violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza declared he would seek a third term in next month’s presidential election.
“Over 105,000 people have now fled the country, with 70,187 in neighbouring Tanzania, 26,300 in Rwanda and 9,183 to the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said UNHCR spokesperson Karin de Gruijl. “While the coup attempt is reported to have been foiled, the situation in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura remains tense with sporadic outbursts of violence,” she said.
Authorities in Kigoma said over 50,000 Burundians were living rough in Kagunga, a border village on the shore of Lake Tanganyika.
Ms de Gruijl confirmed reports that at least another 10,000 people were waiting to cross into Tanzania.
Kagunga is a small village on the border with Burundi that is best reached by boat because of a steep mountain range on the Tanzanian side. A local stadium is being used as a temporary transit camp to hold the incoming refugees in Kigoma before relocating them to official camps several hundred kilometres away. UNHCR is working to relocate the thousands of Burundians on Tanzanian territory, using an old ferry that can carry a maximum of 600 people.UNHCR chartered the ageing ferry MV Liemba on May 3 to transfer refugees from Kagunga to Kigoma. However, the ferry can carry only 600 people and a transfer takes up to 10 hours, with fishing boats needed to move refugees between the small dock and the ferry.“We have now identified a second ship that can carry up to 300 people, but that will not be able to operate at night,” Ms de Gruijl said. “We are also currently verifying a mountain track that some of the refugees could take to leave Kagunga.”
After a four-hour walk through the mountains, refugees spend a night at a temporary UNHCR camp before moving by bus to Nyarugusu refugee camp, she said. More than 18,000 refugees have been moved to the refugee camp so far.“With the rapidly increasing number of people arriving in Kagunga, the living conditions have become extremely dire. People managed to bring some food and can fish in the lake, but the lack of clean drinking water, latrines and shelter is acute,” the spokesperson said.The local health services in the village are overwhelmed. We are now setting up a reception centre to address the most urgent needs. We are also fast-tracking the transfer of pregnant women, children, elderly and sick refugees to Kigoma.”
In Kigoma, authorities have made a stadium available to accommodate the refugees before they go to Nyarugusu refugee camp.
With the help of local partners, UNHCR has turned the stadium into a large transit centre where refugees will stay a few days while being registered and receiving medical care before being transferred to the refugee camp. Seventeen trucks with thousands of tents, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, blankets, kitchen sets, jerry cans, solar lamps and other basic relief items from UNHCR regional warehouses were expected in Kigoma yesterday, as UNHCR and its partners gear up for a large-scale refugee emergency.
Refugees from Burundi also continue to arrive in Rwanda, although the rate has decreased in the last two weeks, Ms de Gruijl said.
“Refugees report that authorities in Burundi have made it very difficult for people to leave the country. According to those who have managed to reach Rwanda in the last few days, there are roadblocks and checkpoints where police or militia prevent people from continuing their journey towards Rwanda.” The crisis in Burundi entered a new phase last week when renegade soldiers attempted to overthrow Mr Nkurunziza while he was away in Tanzania attending a regional crisis meeting. Forces loyal to the president thwarted the attempt after 24 hours of fierce fighting.