Tanzania camp overstretched by Burundi refugee influx

Authorities say camp now full beyond capacity will be expanded as Burundians continue to cross the border.

Tanzania refugees
The collective tents are overcrowded, putting refugees at risk of disease [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

Kigoma, Tanzania – Tanzanian authorities say the camp hosting refugees who fled unrest in neighbouring Burundi is full and will have to be expanded.

Isaac Nantanga, spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs, told Al Jazeera the Nyarugusu camp, located close to the town of Kisulu, could not accommodate the number of new arrivals in its current form.

“The camp will not suffice for the the amount of people who are coming. We have begun work on building Nyarugusu II, which will be close to the existing camp,” Nantanga said.

Inside Story – Escaping Burundi’s Unrest

Nyarugusu was built in 1997 to host a maximum of 50,000 refugees displaced from the civil war in DR Congo. According to officials, the camp is now full beyond double its capacity.

“The camp currently hosts 65,000 Congolese refugees, but with the arrival of 35,000 Burundians, we are sitting at 100,000 people in a camp built for 50,000,” Sospeter Boyo, Nyarugusu’s camp manager, told Al Jazeera.

About 27,000 Burundians have fled to Rwanda and about 9,400 others to DR Congo. But it is Tanzania that has taken the brunt of refugees. At least 64,000 have arrived since the political unrest started in Burundi on April 26, with protesters rallying in the capital against Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to stay in office for a third term.

Walking for days

One refugee told Al Jazeera that he was forced to flee after pro-president militia arrived at his house urging him to join them in operations against the opposition.

“We heard about the troubles in Bujumbura, but when it came to my house, I knew I had to leave,” Shadrack Yanzira, 56, said.

Another Burundian who arrived at Nyragusa on Friday said she walked for three days to get across the border to the Tanzanian village of Kagunga before taking a boat to Kigoma, from where she was transferred to the camp.

“I saw the conditions changing in the country, and I realised it was time to leave,” Zilfa Hussain, 26, said. “I heard gunshots in my village, and so many others decided to leave just like me.”

Humanitarian organisations and aid agencies say the face of the Nyarugusu camp has changed dramatically over the past few weeks. It turned into an emergency operation within days, one official said.

But Tanzanian authorities say they will not turn away people fleeing violence in Burundi.

“We didn’t expect so many to come, but we will continue to accept so long as they keep coming,” Nantanga said.

School used as shelter

To deal with the overcrowding in Nyarugusu, some new arrivals have been placed in collective shelters.

Others have been placed in the camp’s primary school, prompting the cancellation of classes. The football field, one of the primary recreation spots for the Congolese refugees, is now a bus station, where Burundian refugees are arriving to be processed.

Every day, around 1,000 people are placed into tents in a new area marked for new arrivals.

Nantanga said the area in which Nyarugusu is situated will be able to accommodate an extension of the camp.

“It is not a matter of space, it is a matter of resources and infrastructure,” he said.

He added that his government together with UN agencies will build new schools and hospital facilities to cope with the new arrivals.

On Friday, the UNHCR said up to 200,000 people may flee Burundi as unrest continues.

Follow Azad Essa on Twitter: @AzadEssa

About 2,000 refugees are transferred each day from Kagunga village to Nyarugusu refugee camp [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]
About 2,000 refugees are transferred each day from Kagunga village to Nyarugusu refugee camp [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera