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Burundi: UN working to help relocate civilians fleeing election-related violence

27 April 2015 – Civil unrest erupted in Burundi this weekend after the ruling party overwhelmingly elected President Pierre Nkurunziza on Saturday as its candidate for the 26 June presidential election, the humanitarian wing of the United Nations reported today, appealing for $11.6 million dollars to plan a response for the influx of people seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

President Nkurunziza, who was elected by the ruling party¬ CNDD-FDD with 88 per cent of the vote, has been in office for two terms since 2005, and a broad array of actors has warned that an attempt to seek a third term is unconstitutional and contrary to the spirit of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi that ended a decade of civil war in the country.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that public protests resumed today, with various media outlets reporting that five people had been killed since yesterday.

"There has been widespread intimidation and efforts to shut down media outlets, as well as intimidation and arrests of rights activists, notably Pierre Claver Mbonimpa," OCHA said.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Rwanda reported that as of Sunday, 20,408 Burundians had sought refuge in Rwanda over the past two weeks. UNHCR reports that together with the Government of Rwanda, they are working to relocate a total of 16,000 refugees from the two reception centres, Bugesera and Nyanza, to the new Mahama refugee camp by May.

The number of refugees being relocated on a daily basis to the new camp is increasing due to the sharply rising rate of new arrivals (almost 3,000 individuals arriving daily as of 25 April, up from an average of 500 daily arrivals between 16-21 April), overwhelming the two reception centres. UNHCR, the Government and partners are planning for a continued high rate of influx.

Meanwhile, UNHCR in Uvira, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), reports that 4,000 Burundians have sought refuge in the DRC, while UNHCR in Tanzania – which has historically hosted hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees – reports only 100 arrivals from Burundi thus far.

The newly re-established Burundi Humanitarian Country Team has endorsed a contingency plan for the upcoming elections, requesting $11.6 million to respond to the needs of up to 50,000 people most likely to be affected within the first eight weeks of violence due to elections.

In a worst case scenario, 350,000 people could be in need of humanitarian assistance within six months, added OCHA.

UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq was asked to comment on the issue during today's noon briefing at Headquarters. He said the world body is following eth situation very closely and is "deeply concerned about the violence over the weekend, including a number of deaths" following the announcement that the President would seek a third term.

"We urge a swift investigation in to the violence," he said, adding that Said Djinnit, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, is in Bujumbura to convey the organization's concerns and work with all parties on diffusing tensions.

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