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Tanzania, United Republic of

A rush to help Burundi’s refugee children in Tanzania


By UNICEF Tanzania

As violence continues to force Burundians to flee their homes, UNICEF and its partners are working urgently to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to thousands of refugee children in neighbouring Tanzania, including many who have arrived on their own.  

KIGOMA, United Republic of Tanzania, 28 May 2015 – It has been more than a week since Mariama Kwizera and her two siblings fled Burundi and crossed the border into Tanzania. For the past two years, Mariama has been taking care of her brother and sister without external support.

“Seven years ago, I came home to find both our parents killed by the militias,” recalls the 16-year-old. “Our uncle then took care of us, but he died two years ago.”

© UNICEF Video
A girl at the reception area for Burundian refugees in Kagunga, Tanzania, where some 20,000 people have recently passed through

With the escalating violence in Burundi, Mariama and her family were forced to make a decision. “We felt threatened,” she says. “The security situation in our country was getting worse every day. We had no parents and nobody to protect us… People were being killed or beaten up – that’s the reason why we decided to leave, the whole family.”

At great risk

Amid the chaos of conflict, children like Mariama and her siblings are at great risk. Locating these children and protecting them is a high priority for UNICEF.

More than 80,000 people, the majority of them children, have fled violent clashes in Burundi to neighbouring Great Lakes countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. This number is expected to rise, as the situation in Burundi remains volatile.

Nearly 47,000 refugees have arrived in Tanzania alone. Most have been gathering at the Kagunga reception area, on the border with Burundi. From there, they are being transported to the Nyarugusu camp by boat, then bus.

According to UNICEF Tanzania Representative Dr. Jama Gulaid, it is largely a crisis facing children. “Eighty-three per cent of the population on the move that has been registered in Tanzania are children…[W]e have at least 1,200* children who have been screened here at the [Kigoma] stadium, who are unaccompanied or separated from their parents.”

Indeed, as Burundians have fled to Tanzania, a sizeable number of children have been forcibly separated from their families, through a variety of causes. They are exposed to further confusion, and stress, and are at greater risk of violence and abuse.

UNICEF Tanzania Chief of Communication Sandra Bisin explains that efforts are being undertaken to address these issues. “As an immediate response, UNICEF is deploying on the ground 30 social welfare officers that have been trained in child protection for identification, the documentation and identification of alternative care options for these children, as well as referral to adequate services,” she says.

Outbreak of cholera

A new threat looms for children who have fled the violence. Over the past few days, there have been reports of nearly 4,000 cases of diarrhoea, including 32 deaths.  About 39 per cent of those admitted to the cholera treatment centre in Nyarugusu have been children under 5 years old.

There is considerable concern that rapid spread of the disease could lead to a larger outbreak that already overburdened relief efforts may not be able to contain.

UNICEF Burundi Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Amah Klutse reported from Kagunga reception area that, "For us, it’s very important to solve the situation of sanitation here on the site by providing support to treat the cholera cases [and] also to support in terms of water supply and sanitation.”

UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Government, the Tanzania Red Cross Societies and other partners have rushed relief supplies to Tanzania’s north-western border with Burundi. Obstacles are many. There have been nearly 20,000 refugees gathered just at Kagunga, a village on Lake Tanganyika three hours by boat from the regional capital of the Kigoma region. Getting supplies to Kagunga, which has a village health post ill-equipped for such an outbreak, was a race against the clock.

UNICEF has dispatched protective equipment to the camps: a cholera treatment unit able to treat 100 cases of cholera, cholera beds, oral rehydration salts, zinc and antibiotics, jerry cans and buckets. In addition, UNICEF has mobilized nutrition supplies for children, including Vitamin A and high-energy food supplements.

UNICEF and partners are working hard to provide the burgeoning refugee population with the protection they need and the water, sanitation, health and nutrition supplies that will brace them for what lies ahead.

What lies behind, Mariama fears, is the life her little family knew. “I made the decision to leave because of my siblings,” she says. “I fear for their safety. Whether we get peace or not, I would rather stay in Tanzania because I am sure that whatever we left behind is gone.”

*As of 26 May 2015, the number had risen to 1,600.



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