At the beginning of May this year, we were surprised by the influx of many Burundian refugees, who came into Tanzania because of the political crisis and subsequent violence in their country.
Hundreds of women, children and men, especially from the Southern part of Burundi crossed over to Tanzania and settled in Kagunga, a small village, surrounded by slopes of mountains on the one side, and the waters of Lake Tanganyika on the other. Within a short period of time, the number of refugees swelled into thousands. Kagunga village found itself in a precarious situation, as the large number of refugees stretched social services. Food, health, sanitation and shelter became too small for the thousands who settled in the village. With poor sanitation, cholera broke out, leading to the death of many people.
In collaboration with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the government of Tanzania provided ferries which transported some of the refugees from Kagunga to Kigoma town. This operation lasted for about three weeks. Temporarily, the refugees were located in Lake Tanganyika stadium, and the sick among them were treated in the hospital in Kigoma. Other Burundian refugees came by road into Tanzania through villages in the North West, and many were located in Nyarugusu camp. In my opinion, the decision to locate them in Nyarugusu was based on the existing and available facilities. Already, Nyarugusu hosts over 55, 000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, the transfer of the newly arrived Burundian refugees to Nyarugusu is still ongoing. Many buses were hired to bring the refugees to the camps. We are heartened to hear that there is a decrease in the number of refugees from Burundi. Latest figures indicate that about 53, 000 arrive Tanzania frequently.
Nyarugusu is the last camp in Tanzania supported by UNHCR. Facilities and services such as education, health, food, social services, water and environment, are administered by International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGO) operating under the auspices of UNHCR. The existence of these services and facilities although not sufficient, made it easy and logical to receive the refugees in Nyarugusu. Thanks be to God, that Nyarugusu camp is still existing, otherwise things would have been different. A good example is that those who arrived in the camp with Cholera, were immediately controlled and treated because of the availability of health services. Other INGOs have also come to assist.
However, bringing the Burundian refugees to Nyarugusu has also created many challenges. For example, schools were closed, and classrooms were made available for the newcomers. Some churches were arbitrarily used to host refugees; many families were put together under big tents mounted on the playing grounds. Consequently, ordinary and normal activities stopped. However, the INGO’s have mounted tents for each family. According to the information from a government representative, the new comers will be relocated from Nyarugusu to another place already identified, but we do not know when this will happen.
On our part, we continue with the activities as usual but the number of people we serve has increased significantly. The challenge is that the situation in Burundi is still volatile, and our lives are contingent. Because of these, we cannot predict what the future will be. We continue to receive the refugees, pray together and give them all the necessary pastoral services. We make ourselves available and present to them. Happy enough, many of them lived in Mutabila Camp where we served some years ago; they were our parishioners, so we know them and they know us.
My dream was to meet them in a better and more humane environment, but not in a refugee camp! Often, I wonder, Oh my God, when will such a situation end? Up until when will these poor people continue to flee”? Who should find a lasting solution to this human tragedy in the East African region?
We pray for God’s forgiveness! We are all human beings and what affects one affects all God
Please pray for us.
Bro Mariano CSSP