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Press Release

Burundi: Women, children face danger on trek to refuge

Last updated 
  • Women and children fleeing Burundi report high levels of physical and sexual violence in their homes or on their journey to refuge and are often separated prior to their arrival in Tanzania.
  • Massively under-resourced agencies struggle to meet minimum humanitarian standards for health, protection, and education in the largest refugee camp for Burundians – impeding their ability to adequately respond to these immediate needs and prevent further
  • The International Rescue Committee calls for immediate response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and impending catastrophe.

Women and children fleeing from violence in Burundi are subject to physical and sexual violence, threats, and separation on their journey to refuge, according to daily assessments conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Most face these abuses only to arrive in a refugee camp inTanzania with severely limited access to the life-saving services and shelter they need.

Reports of gender-based violence against asylum seekers are increasingly common, with a majority of the violations perpetrated prior to their arrival at Nyarugusu camp – 72% of rape cases reported to the IRC in the week of August 5, 2015, occurred in Burundi or while in transit. On just one day in late July, three women asked to receive post-rape care; all three women had been raped by different perpetrators on the way to Tanzania. A 14-year-old girl also arrived at the camp with her infant after being raped. Her infant cried incessantly as they both had not eaten in days and had not been able to find a mat to sleep on. She recently recovered from cholera.

“The journey to refuge for Burundians is rife with many of the threats they are seeking to escape,” said Kiryn Lanning, Child and Youth Protection and Development Coordinator at the International Rescue Committee. “And the risk continues when they arrive in Tanzania. The international community cannot fail these women and children, and should commit additional resources to ensure they are adequately protected and can recover from these traumas.”

The IRC receives around 30 new cases of unaccompanied or separated children per day, with a current caseload of approximately 3,000 Burundian children, in addition to 3,000 long-standing cases with Congolese refugee children. On July 23 a group of eight unaccompanied children, between the ages of 10 and 12, arrived in Nyarugusu Camp after walking a distance of approximately 98 miles. All eight children needed immediate medical attention, and one of the girls required clinical care for rape.

Since April, more than 180,000 Burundians have fled to Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo due to intensified violence and civil unrest in Burundi. More than 82,000 of these asylum seekers have arrived in Nyarugusu Camp, where the IRC is leading activities in reproductive health, women’s protection and empowerment, child protection, education and water, sanitation and hygiene. The IRC is also providing health services at Kagunga village, an entry point into Tanzania, and Manyovu, a transit point.

Despite the ongoing influx of asylum seekers and the growing concerns of conditions at the camp, the international response for Burundian refugees remains alarmingly underfunded, receiving only 11% of the overall funding requested by the UN Refugee Agency.

Aid agencies are struggling to adequately respond to the violations suffered by refugees and prevent further risks to their health, security, and well-being:

  • IRC social workers are working to ensure the safety of unaccompanied and separated children and spearhead reunification. The IRC’s caseload warrants a staff of 120, but the camp currently has 26 social workers dedicated to case management;
  • The IRC ensures that displaced children’s education is not interrupted. This also helps protect the increasing numbers of girls and boys who are forced into prostitution or other high-risk activities, such as substance abuse. Per international standards, Nyarugusu camp’s Burundian population of more than 30,000 children requires 1,000 teachers. There are currently only 140 teachers;
  • The IRC is providing family planning to ensure women can prevent unintended pregnancy, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in refugee camps. The camp’s current stock of implants — the family planning method in greatest demand — will run out within a month if not replenished; and
  • Minimum international standards require basic protections against gender based violence. Toilets and showers now do not have doors, and women do not have access to fuel-efficient stoves or flashlights. There have been reports of women and girls experiencing sexual harassment and assault as they collect firewood and visit facilities at night.

“The International Rescue Committee is fighting to respond to the most basic daily needs of Burundian refugees in Nyarugusu camp. No asylum seeker should risk continued suffering because the response lacks resources to combat threats to their health and security. The international community should be responding in full force,” Lanning said.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.