7 July 2015: A serious humanitarian crisis looms as thousands of Burundian refugees continue to flood into Rwanda and Tanzania.
Nearly 70,000 refugees have crossed into Tanzania since violence in Burundi began in May while 35,738 refugees had already arrived in Rwanda by late June.
“It is imperative we meet the needs of children and vulnerable groups when they arrive in Tanzania,” said Plan International Tanzania Acting Country Director, Elena Ahmed.
Half of refugees are children
“About 50% of the refugees are children, many of them separated from their families,” she continued. “This presents a massive protection risk.”
Plan International is supporting the refugees, who are living in reception centres and over-crowded camps in both countries.
Refugees in Tanzania are also sheltering in churches and school buildings, preventing children from attending classes.
In Rwanda, refugees lack food, clothing, child-friendly spaces and psychological support.
Plan International is working at 2 Rwandan reception centres - Nyanza and Bugesera - as well as the refugee camp in Mahama.
Children most vulnerable during disasters
Casimir Youmbi, Acting Emergency Response Manager for Plan International Rwanda, said: “We are striving for the protection of child rights as children are the most vulnerable and affected during disasters.
“Emergencies deprive children of their education and increase their need for psychosocial support and protection – especially if they are unaccompanied.”
Many children are also going hungry. “With only 2 meals a day, they sleep with empty stomachs. They are at risk of severe malnutrition,” added Youmbi.
Plan International Rwanda distributes biscuits, juices and other services to children when they arrive at the camp, while their parents queue for food and other services.
As of late June, we have also distributed 900 wash kits, 900 pairs of shoes, 1,440 soap bars, 4,668 sanitary pad sets, 4,668 undergarments and 2,400 pieces of clothing to 1,000 unaccompanied children.
We are also informing women about gender-based violence issues in the camps, providing sanitary supplies and underwear and giving safety briefings to children arriving at Mahama.
In Tanzania, we have been working in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee and UNICEF to set up 3 safe spaces for children to learn and play, as well as helping them receive support and referrals for further care.
Children are encouraged to discuss difficulties they are facing, while social workers use these spaces to identify children who require further counselling, or those suffering from abuse or illness.
Burundi has seen violence escalate since the ruling CNDD-FDD party nominated incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in April 2015, triggering daily protests.
Opposition parties and civil society groups say Nkurunziza’s third-term quest violates the constitution, which limits a president to 2 terms in office.
More violence is expected to escalate as Burundi nears elections on 15 July. Since pre-election violence started in Burundi, nearly 144,000 refugees have fled the country.