Burundi: Thousands of Rwandan refugees living in precarious conditions

Brussels / Bujumbura, June 1st, 2005 – MSF is concerned about the unacceptable living conditions of Rwandan refugees regrouped in the Songore transit camp. This site, located in Burundi’s northern province of Ngozi only 20 km from the Rwandan border, does not have the capacity and is absolutely not suited to accommodate the refugees.

The latter arrived in Songore after having been forced this week-end to quickly leave the spontaneous sites where they had tried to find refuge. The Songore camp – which has a maximum capacity of 800 persons – now numbers some 6,700 refugees, and more are on their way. Lack of water, access to food and shelter are weakening this population’s health and increasing the risks of epidemics and malnutrition.

As each day passes the situation is growing more precarious for these refugees, who have already suffered a series of displacements and forced transfers since last April, when they crossed the Rwandan border to seek asylum in neighbouring Burundi.

MSF teams working in the field to evaluate the situation of the refugees are alarmed by what they are witnessing. “The refugees have unanimously expressed that they don’t feel safe now and that they are enduring constant pressures and even violent acts to push them back to Rwanda,” says Sonia Peyrassol, MSF Program Coordinator in the Great Lakes region. “And these refugees are clearly saying that, for the moment, they don’t want to return to their country”.

Today a refugee in Songore described to MSF how the Mihigo camp, where he was staying 3 days ago, was destroyed: “The refugees who were protesting the demolition of the camp were forced into trucks and taken to Rwanda. Some of them are now back in Burundi and can be found in Songore”.

After a long period of uncertainty about their fate and status, the refugees have not only been regrouped in a site that is inadequate and close to the border, but in addition, humanitarian assistance remains limited. Indeed, access to the Songore camp is authorized only at times when the authorities are not carrying out their “sensitization sessions” for a return to Rwanda.

The 10 members of MSF’s medical teams in the field have started offering medical assistance in the Songore camp. They operate mobile clinics and will soon open a health centre.