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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
15 February 2006

BURUNDI: Food shortages, insecurity cause thousands to flee into Tanzania

NAIROBI, 15 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - Thousands of Burundians have crossed the border into Tanzania since the beginning of the year, citing lack of food and security in their homes, an official of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said.

"Some 3,500 Burundians have crossed the border since the start of the year and the numbers keep growing at an average rate of 100 new arrivals a day," Jennifer Pagonis, the UNHCR spokesperson, said on Monday at a news conference in Geneva.

She said on Monday alone more than 500 newcomers were registered in way stations along the border, most of them at Nyakimonomono, northwestern Tanzania, where more than 2,500 people now lived.

She said the majority of the new arrivals were from Burundi's eastern province of Ruyigi, and displayed visible signs of malnutrition.

"A toddler died last week on arrival suffering from dehydration and three young children died in January from acute respiratory infection," she said.

Worryingly, she added, a significant number of the newcomers had recently returned to Burundi after years of living as refugees in Tanzania.

She expressed the agency's concern over the living conditions at the Tanzanian way stations, three of which together host at least 4,000 "asylum seekers" in the district of Kibondo, in northwestern Tanzania.

"Way stations are designed to receive people who have just crossed the border for a very short period of time only - no more than a few days in most cases," she said.

UNHCR and its partners, she said, had helped improve conditions in the stations by boosting water supplies; draining the ground around the shower and water supply areas; as well as by digging new garbage pits and building additional kitchens.

"Nevertheless, the health hazards of having so many people staying in places meant to accommodate only a few remain very high," she said.

UNHCR has been negotiating with the Tanzanian authorities to be allowed to move those people who have been granted asylum away from the border and into already established camps. Pagonis said so far, however, only a small number of people had been granted asylum - 57 of them were moved to Mkugwa Refugee Camp on Friday and another group of some 100 people is due to be moved this week.

UNHCR assists at least 350,000 refugees in Tanzania, 195,000 of them from Burundi. Pagonis said the agency had been running a voluntary repatriation operation for Burundian refugees since 2002, with more than 290,000 having chosen to return home.

"In recent months, the numbers choosing to repatriate have been at their lowest since the start of the operation," she said.


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