Large gaps remain in meeting needs of Burundi refugees in Rwanda

Publicado: 29 septiembre 2015 8:54 CET

Matthew Rwahigi, Rwandan Red Cross

Since March, approximately 200,000 people have fled pre-election violence in Burundi, heading to neighbouring countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Of the 77,000 who have crossed into Rwanda, most are staying at the permanent refugee camp of Mahama in Kirehe district, or at the transit camps in Bugesera and Nyanza districts, where they receive much needed support. However, an estimated 20,000 Burundian refugees decided to move to the urban areas, particularly the capital, Kigali, and the Southern Province town of Huye, where support, at first, was more adhoc. That, however, is changing.

“We are working on a way to help the refugees living in town,” said Apollinaire Karamaga, Secretary General, Rwandan Red Cross. “Some came thinking the crisis would last a short while and that they would return home. They have now run out of basic requirements such as food and shelter.”

With the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and other donor agencies, Rwandan Red Cross staff and volunteers have been providing aid to the refugees since they began crossing the border, registering new arrivals at different entry points, at the transit camps, and the permanent camp.

“We were the first organization to respond to the needs of refugees during their early influx into Rwanda. Our volunteers and staff provided drinking water, energy biscuits, and first aid to the sick, and evacuated those in poor health conditions to hospitals,” said Karamaga.

Half a year later, they continue to meet the needs of the refugee population, offering psychosocial support, delivering household supplies, and helping separated family members contact their loved ones.

Ndahiro Evelyn, 30, arrived with her family and settled at the camp in Mahama. Heavily pregnant and with darkness descending, Ndahiro began experiencing labour pains. With her husband away, she was not sure who to call and chose to keep to herself in their small tent.

The pains intensified and she was struggling to deliver when a neighbour heard her almost silent groans and called Rwandan Red Cross volunteers who were nearby, conducting an awareness raising session on the prevention against cholera.

Among the group of volunteers was a medical nurse (midwife) who immediately went to work and delivered Ndahiro’s son without any complications. Two days later, the volunteers and staff returned bearing clothes and other items for the child and mother.

“Sometimes one experiences unexpected happiness. That is what is happening to me. I never expected any moment of happiness. Thank you Red Cross,” Ndahiro enthused as neighbours looked on.

While a lot has been done to help the refugees, the gap to be filled remains enormous. Many of the Burundians have psychological scars and trauma from their journeys. The stories they tell are of the mistrust that accumulated as a result of the unrest in their homeland. Key reminders that, in addition to the material support, children and adults alike are emotionally wounded and require continued psychosocial support.

The IFRC is supporting the Rwandan Red Cross through an Emergency Appeal which is seeking almost 550,000 Swiss francs to deliver assistance to 10,000 people, including host communities. The focus is on emergency heath (first aid, psychosocial support, and violence prevention), water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, shelter and settlements, food security, nutrition and livelihoods, with a component of disaster preparedness and risk reduction.