Nairobi — With more than 35,000 Burundian refugees preparing to be repatriated from Tanzania, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is today warning that many will face hardship without immediate support.
The imminent closure of Mtabila camp, in the District of Kigoma, Western Tanzania, has left thousands of Burundians facing an uncertain future in a country many have never have seen. The majority fled Burundi to escape the civil war in 1993, and will now be repatriated before the end of the year, when the camp closes.
"I left Burundi 15 years ago, when I was a teenager, to escape the war," says Laurent Manirambona, a 30-year-old father of three who now worries about his family's future. "In the camp in Tanzania, I built up a business with small shops. But now it's all gone and I'm here with nothing, no source of livelihood."
An estimated 1,000 people are returning to Burundi on a daily basis, many of them children who have become separated from their parents. They must first pass through a transit camp to register. The Burundi Red Cross Society (BRCS) has deployed volunteers to the transit camp to help re-unite families, however health care and water services are not sufficient to support this transient population. "The transit camps are crowded, hot and chaotic, so it's essential the Burundi Red Cross Society is there to assist and provide some reassurance during this very difficult process," said Anselme Katiyunguruza, Secretary General. "But the struggle of returnees will not end once they return to Burundi. We really need to think about how to support these families in their new environment." The IFRC is today launching a preliminary emergency appeal of 611,896 Swiss francs (646,907 US dollars) to support 14,643 people for the next three months.
Funds raised will be used to help provide for immediate needs as families re-integrate into their new communities. The appeal will also support the provision of psychosocial support, emergency shelter, and emergency health, water and sanitation services, as well as hygiene promotion.
Tracing and Restoring Family Links services will also be provided in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross. "This repatriation is going to be an extremely difficult and potentially painful process for many people," said Charlie Musoka, IFRC Operations Coordinator for East Africa. "This is not an issue that is getting much public attention, but it has the potential to become a humanitarian crisis if we don't respond quickly."