Burundi risks becoming a ‘forgotten refugee crisis,’ UNHCR warns

Mahama refugee camp houses many Burundian refugees.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR, with 26 other humanitarian partners, has launched a funding appeal for $391 million to support some 430,000 Burundian refugees during 2018.

“We are urging donors to step up support for desperate refugees who struggle to survive in neighbouring countries as efforts are falling short of acceptable humanitarian standards,” said Catherine Wiesner, UNHCR’s regional coordinator for the Burundian situation. “The international community must also stay engaged in the pursuit of a genuine and lasting resolution to the Burundi crisis.”

She added that low levels of humanitarian funding for the crisis remain a great concern. Burundian refugees could get only 21% of the required funds, making it the world’s least funded refugee response plan.

“Our appeal, being presented today to donors in Geneva, aims to ensure the needs of Burundian refugees are not overlooked and the situation does not become a forgotten refugee crisis,” Wiesner remarked.

Since 2015, more than 400,000 Burundians have fled the country, escaping human rights abuses, continued political uncertainty, and the related humanitarian crisis.

According to the UNHCR, the human rights situation inside Burundi remains worrying. Unless the political situation changes and socio-economic conditions improve, the outflow of Burundian refugees - mostly to neighbouring countries - is expected to continue in 2018, though at a lower level, the organisation warns. Refugee numbers are expected to increase by over 50,000 this year as efforts to resolve the political crisis in the country have not made significant progress.

Tanzania is hosting the largest number of Burundians with 254,000 refugees, Rwanda has 89,000 the DR Congo 44,000 and Uganda about 40,000. Smaller numbers have fled to Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa.

In 2017, over 61,000 Burundian refugees arrived in the neighbouring countries. Though numbers have dropped in comparison to 2016 (when some 123,000 had fled), thousands still kept crossing the borders to seek safety in the region.

“With increasing humanitarian needs, dwindling resources did not allow assistance levels to reach acceptable standards throughout the region despite our efforts,” Wiesner observed.

As the majority of refugees (85 per cent) live in refugee camps, underfunding has impacted all areas of life - including food cuts, dilapidated shelters, overcrowded classrooms, and limited capacity to respond to sexual and gender-based violence.

Underfunding also severely affects the organisation’s ability to invest in integrated social services and livelihood opportunities, limits support to environmental protection and restoration, and prevented us in 2017 from carrying out population verifications, providing documentation, and training government officials on refugee status determination as originally planned.

  • By Hope Magazine
  • Posted 7th February 2018

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