Increasing perils at Tanzania's Nyarugusu refugee camp

Sexual violence and environmental degradation threaten refugees seeking protection at Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania.

Griff Tapper | | Africa, Refugees, Tanzania

Nyarugusu refugee camp, Tanzania - The risk of sexual violence among Burundian women and girls in Tanzania’s Nyarugusu refugee camp is being driven up by the scarcity of firewood used for cooking, adding to an already high level of sexual gender-based violence in the camp, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

One refugee recounted her experience while holding back tears. She recalled being grabbed by a man with a knife while collecting firewood.
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The mother-of-three, who fled Burundi in May last year after her husband was killed, managed to escape when other Burundian refugees came to her aid. She said she was saved by the grace of God.

According to the IRC, on average, two to three women report being raped each week in incidents relating to collecting firewood up to 15 kilometres outside the camp. Staff working in the camp say that due to the stigma associated with sexual violence, they believe the number of cases that go unreported is much higher.

Juliette Delay, spokeswoman for the IRC, said: "Women face particularly high risks each day, travelling long distances in the blazing heat outside the camp to fetch firewood just to feed their children."

When Burundians began seeking refuge in Tanzania at the outset of political violence last year, Nyarugusu became one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

By September last year, it had reached three times its capacity with more than 150,000 people (PDF), but overcrowding eased slightly with the opening of two more camps, Nduta and Mtendeli, as Burundians continued to flee.

According to the latest UNHCR data, there are currently some 137,000 people in Nyarugusu, more than 73,000 of whom are Burundian and the rest from the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are a further 66,000 Burundians in Nduta and Mtendeli refugee camps.

Apart from the increased risk of sexual attacks, the lack of alternative sources of fuel and cooking stoves has also meant that the surrounding area has been exhausted of resources, which has put a strain on both the camp’s population and the environment.

The UNHCR said in a statement to Al Jazeera that a plan has been developed to "introduce an alternative source of cooking fuel" but "increased funding is critical to initiate the roll-out of this strategy and to scale up activities across all three refugee camps".


MORE: Escaping Burundi: Life in refuge


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