For Burundi refugees, a shift to long-term temporary status

By Andrew Green 10 August 2015

A man carries corrugated iron for the roof of one of the new permanent buildings. Photo by: Will Boase

As political violence has increased following Burundi’s presidential vote late last month, at least a thousand people continue to flee the country each week — necessitating the continuation of emergency response that has gone on for months. With few of the refugees prepared to return imminently, aid agencies are attempting to implement long-term assistance strategies for the displaced Burundians. And they are doing it all amid a significant funding shortfall.

Though it is just over three months old, the Mahama refugee camp is already in its second phase of development. When the camp in southeastern Rwanda first opened in late April to house newly arrived Burundian refugees, aid agencies were still scrambling to clear scrub from the rolling hills overlooking Tanzania, stake tents and set up rudimentary medical facilities.

The American Refugee Committee is one such agency. The organization is in charge of setting up and running the camp and its business extension agent, Dan Kabyetsiza, was seconded from another post in Rwanda to help receive and integrate new arrivals. In the hectic early days of the settlement, as many as 1,500 refugees could arrive daily. Initially, some had to spend a few nights sleeping in the open air.

That changed quickly. By early July, the number of people living in the camp had ballooned to 29,000, but the pace of new arrivals had slowed. Aid agencies had managed to clear the fields and erect rows of white tents. A medical facility, offering outpatient and inpatient services and maternal health care had gone up near the camp’s entrance and food distribution was running smoothly. But there was no slackening of the pace of work around the settlement.

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About the author

Andrew Green@_andrew_green

Andrew is a print and radio reporter (and occasional photographer) based in East Africa. He writes often from the region on issues of health and human rights. He has also worked as Voice of America’s South Sudan bureau chief and as the Center for Public Integrity’s Web editor.

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