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Health and shelter for Burundian refugees in Tanzania are poised to get worse in already overstretched camps, the aid agencies Oxfam, HelpAge International, Plan International, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) warned today, if there is an increased influx of refugees across the border. Reports of escalating political instability inside Burundi have prompted fears of a new exodus of refugees into neighboring countries, which would push the current limits of the camps in western Tanzania to breaking point. Nyarugusu, where Burundians began arriving in April this year, is now the world’s third largest refugee camp.
Tanzania is hosting over 110,000 Burundians within two camps, Nyarugusu and Nduta, and more refugees are arriving in the hundreds every day. Many people are still living in overcrowded mass shelters months after their arrival, where wet floors and cramped conditions mean that the risk of respiratory infections and waterborne diseases is high. If arrival numbers spike in the coming weeks and the current lack of funding continues, a crisis which is already 64 percent underfunded in Tanzania (UNHCR Burundi Situation Funding Appeal Update, as of 17 November 2015), will only get worse.
Jane Foster, Oxfam’s Country Director in Tanzania, said: “Nyarugusu camp is already the third largest refugee camp in the world, and Nduta is growing by the day, yet the situation for Burundians in Tanzania is struggling for attention and adequate funding.”
“Governments should realize that refugees across the world – no matter where they flee – need sustained help. More funds, released faster, are desperately needed so that agencies can prevent disease outbreaks and give people, especially children, a basic level of support including key protection services,” said Steve Thorne, Country Director for Save the Children.
The Tanzanian rainy season has already begun and has led to an increase in refugees contracting malaria and watery diarrhea, which will only get worse as areas flood and tents and toilets are damaged by the heavy rains. The situation could also lead to a cholera outbreak in the camps, especially as there are known outbreaks in Burundi as well as several nearby areas in Tanzania. Aid agencies are calling for donors to urgently increase funding for Burundian refugees so that aid agencies can better prepare for this growing humanitarian crisis.
Amleset Tewodros, Country Director for Help Age International, said: “Rains and damaged toilets bring the threat of disease – a huge risk given that people are living in such close quarters, and conditions for the frail and chronically ill, are likely to get worse. Many NGOs are working hard to provide tents, food, water and sanitation, but we are all struggling with too few resources and worsening conditions.”
To ease the overcrowding, the government of Tanzania started relocating thousands of Burundians from Nyarugusu to Nduta camp in early October 2015. In addition, all new arrivals from Burundi are now placed in Nduta, which serves as home to more than 22,000 refugees – a number which is rising every day. While Nduta could house up to 50,000 people, a sharp increase in numbers would put resources such as health services, tents, water supplies and toilets under strain, and leave Burundians who have found safety in Tanzania without proper housing, at risk of poor health and receiving limited education and protection services.\
“Children in particular are at great risk and it’s key that we continue to provide support to vulnerable children including those unaccompanied and separated, by ensuring they are protected, have increased access to safe places and child protection material as well as providing them with emotional support,” said Jorgen Haldorsen, Country Director of Plan International Tanzania.
Aid agencies face difficult decisions about where to use their limited resources so that Burundians are well supported across all the camps, as well as ensuring there is adequate presence at border points to provide emergency services upon arrival. Some organizations have already had to start reducing their work in Nyarugusu in order to set up systems in Nduta and a third site, Mtendeli, which has yet to open.
Elijah Okeyo, Country Director for IRC in Tanzania, said: “While refugees in Europe are making headlines, the international community must also remember that the situation for Burundians in neighboring countries is equally devastating.”