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Burundi turmoil ensnares first Tanzania, now Uganda in refugee crisis

Burundian refugees rest with their belongings on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village, in western Tanzania's Kigoma region
Burundian refugees rest with their belongings on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village, in western Tanzania's Kigoma region Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Aid agencies in Uganda are expecting an influx of up to 15,000 refugees from Burundi in the coming weeks, as the political situation in Bujumbura deteriorates. More than 100,000 people have already fled the country, heading south to Tanzania. But overcrowding and now a fresh cholera outbreak on the shores of Lake Tanganyika is forcing Burundian refugees to head up north to Uganda.

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Burundians have been arriving in the East African nation since last December, fleeing the unrest sparked by the president's bid for a third term.  

Earlier this week, at least 700 refugees arrived at the Nakivale refugee camp, Uganda's largest settlement, in only a day. And Burundians now make up roughly 5,000 of the camp's 63,000 refugees, which also welcomes Rwandans and Congolese.

If the camp is the first point of call for many arrivals, not everyone wants to go there.

"I can't go to Nakivale," Gasirabo Souvenir* told RFI. A Burundian refugee, he fled his country late April, when anti-government protests began to get violent. He says he was forced to flee after pro-government militia urged him to join them in operations against the opposition. Now his life is in danger. The intimidation he experienced back home has followed him to Uganda.

"There are informers working for President (Pierre) Nkurunziza who have infiltrated the camp. I can't go to Nakivale, because I fear that they will kill me or send me back to Burundi," he told RFI.

Ugandan authorities have brushed aside security concerns within the country's refugee camps, claiming to be at the forefront of the asylum process.

"I don't think this fear is warranted." Andrew Mbokori, who heads the UNHCR sub-office in Mbarara, western Uganda, told RFI.

“Refugees are supposed to report any protection situation or issue to Ugandan authorities … We have a lot of refugees from Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia. And we don't have these type of issues at the moment," he said.

Uganda has been generous in its resources, providing numerous amenities such as education, water and healthcare to the new arrivals, mainly women and children.

But its resources are not infinite, and aid agencies have called on donors to contribute 10 million dollars (9 million euros) to deal with the influx of refugees, expected to reach 15,000.

*Gasirabo Souvenir is a pseudo name for the eye-witness' protection

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