Relocated refugees look for stability amid the chaos

Publicado: 11 abril 2016 8:27 CET

By Niki Clark, American Red Cross

Fatima Teresa, 42, is surrounded by children and chaos. She searches for her luggage, just unloaded from one of 11 buses, a child dangling on her hip. Fatima and 4 of her 8 children have just arrived in the Mtendeli refugee camp in western Tanzania. Thousands have fled here since pre-electoral violence in neighbouring Burundi broke out in April 2015. Fatima’s four remaining children are making the trip with her mother; she is not quite sure where they are at the moment. Since late August they have lived in mass shelters, tents for up to 200 people, in the Nyarugusu camp three hours to the south. She and her family count themselves among the 1,500 refugees who were being transported from the overcrowded Nyarugusu camp to Mtendeli each week. Further transfers have been suspended pending the digging of additional boreholes at Mtendeli to accommodate the new arrivals.

After grabbing her bags, she heads to registration and medical screening. The Tanzania Red Cross Society is running all medical services in Mtendeli, including a newly renovated hospital. After a physical check-up with a Red Cross doctor, she will move to another mass shelter, but this time for only 2 or 3 days. Then, finally, after months of waiting, Fatima will move with her children and mother into their own family tent.

Burundians are no strangers to the hectic and instable life of refugees. Since the mid-1990s, many have left en masse, fleeing violence and almost certain death. Mtendeli, which first opened in 1996, closed in 2010 when most Burundians once again returned home. But the recent influx has swollen numbers and needs, pushing the Nyarugusu camp far beyond its original capacity of 50,000 to a population closer to 150,000. To relieve pressures, refugees are being transferred, when appropriate services exist, to a newly renovated and reopened Mtendeli, with those living in mass shelters identified as priorities.  

Fatima left Burundi in August 2015 after her husband was killed and her daughter violently attacked. The small amount of property she carried with her was stolen en route. Her worldly possessions now consist of a few clothes and blankets she has accumulated since arriving. Fatima’s journey to Mtendeli has been difficult. Tragically, it is not uncommon.

Conflicting emotions

Mnezoro Emanueli, 26, and his wife, Minani Odeline, 24, stand behind Fatima in the registration line. They have also just arrived from Nyarugusu with their three children, aged 6, 5, and 1.5 years. Mnezoro left Burundi in July; his political associations meant impending assassination. When it became too dangerous for his wife and the children, they left as well.

During their time in Nyarugusu, the couple’s children were vaccinated at the Red Cross health clinic and the family was able to receive health care, something that was hard to come by in their home country.

“Ever since my husband left, my life was in misery,” Minani says. “The situation was tense and I was unable to feel stability. But in this new camp, I am finally able to feel secure.”

Nahitangie Melane, 20, is having a harder time relating to Minani’s hope for the future. She, too, has just arrived at Mtendeli from Nyarugusu. She waits in line with her mother, Ngeshimana Madelena, 56, to see a Red Cross doctor. Her mother has a cough and fever that she cannot seem to shake. Nahitangie has huge, desperate eyes, and tears run down her cheek as she speaks.

She and her mother arrived in Nyarugusu in August 2015. Her father had disappeared in the violence. Her brother lives in Kigoma, close to the border with Burundi, but she has been unable to reach him.

“I feel stranded,” she says, clutching the UNHCR refugee card she has just been issued. “I don’t know what life will look like. I have no idea. It’s just the two of us. A life of a refugee is misery and poverty and nothing else.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an Emergency Appeal of 5,245,197 Swiss francs to support the Tanzania Red Cross Society as it responds to this unfolding crisis. The Appeal aims to assist 250,000 refugees in the Nyarugusu and Mtendeli camps through the provision of basic health care, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, shelter, disaster preparedness and risk reduction and capacity building. The Appeal is currently 49 per cent funded.