Plagued by instability and ethnic conflict since independence, Burundi’s contested presidential elections in 2015 plunged the country once again into a crisis and prompted a mass exodus. Seventy-five percent of Burundians struggle to overcome food shortages, malnutrition, and disease. More than 480 000 Burundians remain displaced, either inside Burundi itself or in neighbouring countries. The EU has provided long-standing support to these refugees, and to those refugees who have fled into Burundi from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Chronic malnutrition among Burundian children is the highest in the world. The UN estimates that nearly two million people in Burundi will be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2019. They are suffering from malnutrition, epidemics or food shortages resulting from the socio-economic crisis and declining agricultural production. Heavy floods in 2018 displaced thousands and destroyed people’s crops and livelihoods. The Ebola epidemic in neighbouring DRC poses a threat and requires preparedness.
The majority of Burundian refugees are hosted in three closed camps in Tanzania. They rely on international assistance for their basic needs. Since the start of a voluntary return plan in September 2017, almost 58 000 refugees have been repatriated to Burundi. In August 2018, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) urged Tanzania to ensure that returns are voluntary and that people are not pressured into leaving the camps. Burundi itself also hosts 75 000 refugees who have fled conflict and hardship in the DRC.
The European Union is closely monitoring the crisis in Burundi and has provided nearly €14 million in humanitarian funding in 2018. The funding is allocated to international humanitarian organisations that assist Burundian refugees in Tanzania and Rwanda, and DR Congolese refugees who fled to Burundi.
In Burundi, EU humanitarian funds provide safe water and sanitation to displaced people and improve the protection of vulnerable populations. In May 2018, funding was provided to address the urgent needs of flood-affected families in the region of Gatumba, 12 km from the capital Bujumbura. They were given shelter, food assistance, blankets, mosquito nets, and access to healthcare.
Following the DRC’s tenth and worst Ebola outbreak to date, the EU is helping the Red Cross to reinforce preparedness and prevention measures in Burundi and other neighbouring countries. In addition, EU humanitarian support enables the registration of Burundian refugees at camps and settlements in the region, often a precondition for them to receive assistance. Aid also provides for essential needs such as food assistance, water, sanitation and hygiene, healthcare, and protection.
In Tanzania, where the majority of Burundian refugees (222 000 in total) reside in the Mtendeli, Nduta, and Nyarugusu camps, capacities and resources have been stretched to the limit. Since September 2017, there have been almost 58 000 voluntary returns from the camps, following a tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Burundi and Tanzania. The pace of returns slowed down considerably in 2018 as the appetite of refugees to return to Burundi diminished over concerns regarding the situation in their home country. UN agencies are, therefore, supporting, but not promoting the process of voluntary returns.
Humanitarian aid in the Tanzania camps is geared towards protection programmes, and the provision of safe water and sanitation. Particularly vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, single parents, survivors of sexual violence, and people with a disability, chronic medical condition or albinism, receive assistance and protection. EU-funded humanitarian organisations have adopted measures to reduce the risks of violence and abuse in the refugee camps while at the same time ensuring support to victims of violence. The upgrading of healthcare services, and water and sanitation facilities has had an important role in preventing and addressing disease outbreaks such as cholera.