YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – An ongoing political crisis in Burundi is being ignored by an international community distracted by other problems around the world, according to a Catholic aid worker.
Over 350,000 refugees have fled the central African country after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a third term in 2015, bringing thousands of protesters to the streets.
The street protests led to violent clashes with the security forces, and Nkurunziza was re-elected. In 2018, the president organized a referendum changing the constitution so that he could stay in power until 2034.
Refugees have fled to Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda, which is the location of the Mahama refugee camp where Caritas Rwanda helps over 60,000 Burundians.
“The Burundian crisis seems forgotten while Mahama camp is still receiving new arrivals,” said Rachel Felgines, of Caritas Rwanda.
She told Crux the refugee situation has continued to get worse as donors tend to focus attention on other crises around the globe.
“The current situation is no longer related in the media, but refugees keep on coming and the return of those present in the camp for four years is not planned. And when you ask the question to the refugees, they say they cannot be sure of their security if they return to Burundi. Many are still afraid. Even more, many of them don’t plan to be able to return one day to Burundi after having faced what they faced. Some of them are too traumatized to even think to return one day in Burundi,” said Felgines.
As the challenges facing the refugees continue to grow, Caritas has been offering a lifeline, but is in desperate need of funds.
“Currently, Caritas Rwanda is facing a budget issue because the current emergency appeal launched in April for one year (May 2019 to May 2020) has not met the expected response from the confederation. To date it is funded by less than 10 percent. As Caritas Rwanda has been supporting the refugees in Mahama for four years with several activities, we can say that the project funding is probably facing donors’ fatigue. The crisis became protracted and as such is facing underfunding,” she continued.
The UN refugee agency says the Burundian refugee situation is the lowest funded of any situation globally, saying that last year it had received just 33 percent of the $391 million requested to support Burundian refugees.
“Even as some refugees are opting to return home, the majority will still require international protection for some time to come,” said Catherine Wiesner, the Regional Refugee Coordinator and Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework Champion for the Burundi situation. “The international community needs to live up to its global commitments to urgently help these refugees and the countries hosting them.”
Felgines said Caritas Rwanda has been supporting the most vulnerable people in the camp, including the elderly, disabled people, people with chronic illnesses, and women heading households.
“Thousands of people were served each year thanks to Caritas Rwanda, with an average of more than 5,000 beneficiaries a year. Caritas Rwanda have been giving nutritional, livelihood and psychosocial support with the contribution of Caritas Internationalis member organizations,” she told Crux.
She said the Catholic charity however requires around $350,000 for the next year.
Felgines said in addition to emergency aid, such as food and psychological services, Caritas Rwanda is also helping support refugees get an education and job training. In addition, they are helping Burundian refugees integrate into the Rwandan community.
Burundi suspended its cooperation with the U.N. human rights office in October 2016, accusing it of “complicity with coup plotters and Burundi’s enemies” after a report alleged the “involvement of the regime in systematic abuses and a risk of genocide,” before forcing it to close earlier this year.
The government has long been angered by U.N. reports describing alleged abuses amid the political turmoil. Judges from the International Criminal Court authorized an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored crimes including murder, rape and torture — a decision unaffected by Burundi’s withdrawal from the court in 2017.
This report incorporated material from the Associated Press.
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