29 June, 2015 - Refugees fleeing Burundi violence threatens new humanitarian crisis

“The smell hit me first. There are limited clean water and sanitation facilities here. I emerge into the light to see a football pitch covered from end to end in people. I am not surprised (to be told) cholera has already killed 33 people”. Click here to read Steve Williams’s eyewitness account from Tanzania.

A flood of refugees fleeing political turmoil in the East African nation of Burundi is threatening to create a new humanitarian crisis, with thousands of children already at risk, says child rights organisation Plan International.

Already, more than 50,000 refugees have fled into neighbouring Tanzania and nearly 30,000 have crossed the border into Rwanda. More than 7,000 have also crossed into Uganda, with around 1,100 refugees arriving in Uganda every day.

Plan International is expecting the number of refugees across the three countries to grow to around 100,000 over the next few months, and is gravely concerned for children caught up in the escalating conflict.

“There are many unaccompanied children who have been separated from their families,” says Plan’s Emergency Response Manager in Tanzania, Steve Williams. “The signs of malnutrition, especially among children, are clear. The next few days are crucial. The international community is going to have pull together to get on top of this emergency in order to save lives,” Williams says.

In Rwanda, Plan is working at two reception centres and a refugee camp, supporting women and children, both accompanied and unaccompanied. In Tanzania, Plan is assisting the establishment of safe spaces for children to learn and play, as well as helping them receiving support and referrals for further care.

Plan’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Roland Angerer, says children fleeing Burundi are at risk from further violence, abuse and disease. “A big number of refugees are children and some of them are unaccompanied. We know from experience that this poses the imminent risk of physical abuse and sexual violence against children and adolescents arising from living without protection in crowded reception centres.”

“The over-crowding may also lead to an outbreak of water-borne diseases, unless mitigation measures are put in place rapidly,” he says. “We’re striving to keep the most vulnerable, including girls, safe from harm. However, more funding is required to provide the refugees with adequate food, water, clothing, shelter and healthcare, including sanitary pads for women and adolescent girls.”

Two of the Burundian children are teenagers Collette and Carine, who registered as asylum seekers in Rwanda after walking for 12 hours.

Collette says: “We took no clothes and little money as we did not want to raise suspicion among our neighbours. We lied to them that we were going for a wedding of a relative in Rwanda.”

Burundi, a small nation in central Africa's Great Lakes region, has seen violence escalate since the ruling CNDD-FDD party nominated incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for re-election.

To download broadcast-quality B-roll footage and original high resolution photos from Tanzania, please click here: bit.ly/burundirefugees

Editors’ notes: Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 77 years ago, working in 51 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.

Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945