Kigoma, Tanzania – The political crisis in Burundi continues unabated and with each passing day, as President Pierre Nkurunziza expresses an unwillingness to step down, Burundi descends deeper into chaos, and inches closer to another civil war.
The people of this small East African country, have been forced to revisit the wounds of the long civil war that barely ended a decade earlier.
Due to ongoing intimidation, mob violence, and civil unrest, almost 150,000 people, mostly women and children, have been forced to grab their modest belongings and leave the country. Some on foot, others on bicycles, refugees carried bedding, clothes and pots tucked into white straw bags across the border into Rwanda, the DR Congo, and Tanzania.
For many, this is the third or fourth time they have fled Burundi. When the political unrest started in Bujumbura, and moved to the areas outside the city, new militia groups emerged, asking the farmers to take sides. And the farmers knew it was once more time to leave.
By early July, Tanzania had the highest number of Burundian refugees. The UNHCR says some 69,000 have made their way through the various border crossings – steep mountain passes, the shore of the Kagunga peninsula and others – before being transferred to the Nyarugusu camp near the town of Kasulu.
The psychological and physical strain on refugees, especially children, is almost impossible to quantify.
In Tanzania, 60 percent of the Burundian refugees are younger than 17.
Without proper care, children are at risk of acute malnutrition and developmental problems. Without the necessary assistance, they face a life without an education and a stunted future.