Fleeing insecurity and cholera, Burundians pour into Uganda

Officials in Uganda say they are struggling to cope as hundreds of Burundian refugees arrive in the country every day, having fled insecurity at home and dire conditions in Tanzania, to where many had initially fled.

As of 2 June, some 7, 659 Burundian refugees, mostly women and children, had arrived in Uganda through Rwanda and Tanzania. 

“The cholera outbreak and worsening sanitation conditions in some of the refugee settlements in Tanzania have forced thousands of the Burundian refugees to cross into Uganda. This has created congestion and more pressure on our existing facilities at the reception centres and refugee settlements,” Walter Omondi, the south-western refugee desk officer with the Office of the Prime Minister, told IRIN.

“We have concerns and fears of disease outbreaks like cholera due to poor waste disposal. We need more facilities and infrastructure at the reception centres and refugee resettlements to improve sanitation as the numbers continue to increase,” he said.  

David Kazungu, the commissioner for refugees in the same office, said the new arrivals had “taken us by surprise [and] strained our existing resources. Although we have land to allocate the refugees, we are faced with the challenge of providing them with food, water, shelter, health and other basic necessities,” he said. 

State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Musa Ecweru said the new influx “comes at a time when we are overstretched and overwhelmed with the number of other refugees from South Sudan and DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo].” 

Uganda currently hosts some 226,880 DRC refugees and 139,280 from South Sudan.
“The numbers of new arrivals are on the increase. The past week daily rate has been increased to 250 to 300 asylum seekers entering per day,” Sakura Atusmi, deputy country representative of the UN Refuge Agency, told IRIN

“All are citing harassment and persecution by Imbonerakure [the youth wing of Burundi’s ruling party] as well as fear and uncertainty about stability in the near future,” she said.

For more than a month, Burundi has been rocked by protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a third term in office, a move the opposition says violates the constitution.

On 13 May, senior army officers mounted an unsuccessful coup attempt, further increasing tensions and the outflow of refugees. In all, more than 100,000 Burundians have fled their country in recent weeks, the vast majority of them to Tanzania.

Most of the Burundians in Uganda are now staying in the Nakivale refugee settlement in the western Isingoro district and in the Nyakabande transit camp in Kisoro district. 

For UNHCR’s Sakura, the most urgent steps that need to be taken now are the “expansion of reception facilities, reinforced health and nutrition screening at reception centres.” She added that her agency had made contingency plans for the number of Burundian refugees in Uganda to reach 15,000.

The UN’s World Food Programme said that 5,000 Burundians who recently arrived in Nakivale needed food assistance.

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