Burundi risks to become a forgotten refugee crisis without support
GENEVA, Switzerland, February 6, 2018-Text presented by Catherine Wiesner, UNHCR’s Regional Coordinator for the Burundi situation – to whom quoted text may be attributed – to the Palais press this morning, before the regular press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva:
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, with its 26 other humanitarian partners, is today launching a funding appeal for US$391 million to support some 430,000 Burundian refugees during 2018.
We are urging donors to step up support for desperate refugees who struggle to survive in neighbouring countries as efforts are falling short of acceptable humanitarian standards. The international community must also stay engaged in the pursuit of a genuine and lasting resolution to the Burundi crisis.
Low levels of humanitarian funding for this crisis remains a great concern. Burundian refugees could get a mere 21 per cent of the required funds – making it the world’s least funded refugee response plan.
Our appeal, being presented today to donors in Geneva, aims to ensure the needs of Burundian refugees are not overlooked and the situation does not become a forgotten refugee crisis.
Since 2015, more than 400,000 refugees and asylum-seekers have fled the country, escaping human rights abuses, continued political uncertainty, and the related humanitarian crisis.
Refugee numbers are expected to increase by over 50,000 this year as regional efforts to resolve the political crisis in the country have not made significant progress.
The human rights situation inside Burundi remains worrying. Unless the political situation changes and socio-economic conditions improve, the outflow of Burundian refugees – mostly to neighbouring countries – is expected to continue in 2018, though at a lower level.
Tanzania is hosting the largest number of Burundians with 254,000 refugees, while 89,000 are in Rwanda with another 44,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and some 40,000 in Uganda. Smaller refugee numbers have also fled to Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa.
In 2017, over 61,000 refugees arrived in the neighbouring countries. Though numbers have dropped in comparison to 2016 (when some 123,000 had fled), thousands still kept crossing the borders to seek safety in the region.
With increasing humanitarian needs, dwindling resources did not allow assistance levels to reach acceptable standards throughout the region despite our efforts.
As the majority of refugees (85 per cent) live in refugee camps, underfunding has impacted all areas of life – including food cuts, dilapidated shelters, overcrowded classrooms, and limited capacity to respond to sexual and gender based violence.
Underfunding also severely affects our ability to invest in integrated social services and livelihood opportunities, limits support to environmental protection and restoration, and prevented us in 2017 from carrying out population verifications, providing documentation, and training government officials on refugee status determination as originally planned.
In the last few years, some Burundian refugees have also decided to return home, and are seeking to re-establish their lives in Burundian communities that are facing considerable economic pressures and food insecurity.
At this stage, UNHCR and partners are not promoting or encouraging refugee returns to Burundi. We are working with the relevant governments to assist those who indicate they have made a free and informed choice to return voluntarily, to do so in safety and dignity.
We are also reiterating our appeal to Burundi’s neighbours to continue to uphold their international responsibilities and commitments to receive asylum-seekers at their borders and offer protection to those who need it. UNHCR reminds States that refugees should not be forced to return to Burundi against their will.