Overstretched and underfunded refugee camps in Tanzania put over 110,000 Burundian refugees at risk

Published: 23rd November 2015

Health and shelter for Burundian refugees in Tanzania are poised to get worse in already overstretched camps, the aid agencies Oxfam, HelpAge International, Plan International, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) warned today, if there is an increased influx of refugees across the border. Reports of escalating political instability inside Burundi have prompted fears of a new exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries, which would push the current limits of the camps in western Tanzania to breaking point. Nyarugusu, where Burundians began arriving in April this year, is now the world’s third largest refugee camp. 

Tanzania is hosting over 110,000 Burundians within two camps, Nyarugusu and Nduta, and more refugees are arriving in their hundreds every day. Many people are still living in overcrowded mass shelters months after their arrival, where wet floors and cramped conditions mean that the risk of respiratory infections and waterborne diseases is high. If arrival numbers spike in the coming weeks and the current lack of funding continues, a crisis which is already 64 percent underfunded in Tanzania (UNHCR Burundi Situation Funding Appeal Update, as of 17 November 2015), will only get worse. 

Jane Foster, Oxfam’s Country Director in Tanzania, said: “Nyarugusu camp is already the third largest refugee camp in the world, and Nduta is growing by the day, yet the situation for Burundians in Tanzania is struggling for attention and adequate funding."

“Governments should realise that refugees across the world – no matter where they flee – need sustained help.  More funds, released faster, are desperately needed so that agencies can prevent disease outbreaks and give people, especially children, a basic level of support including key protection services,” said Steve Thorne, Country Director for Save the Children. 

The Tanzanian rainy season has already begun and has led to an increase in refugees contracting malaria and watery diarrhea, which will only get worse as areas flood and tents and toilets are damaged by the heavy rains. The situation could also lead to a cholera outbreak in the camps, especially as there are known outbreaks in Burundi as well as several nearby areas in Tanzania. Aid agencies are calling for donors to urgently increase funding for Burundian refugees so that aid agencies can better prepare for this growing humanitarian crisis. 

Amleset Tewodros, Country Director for Help Age International, said: “Rains and damaged toilets bring the threat of disease – a huge risk given that people are living in such close quarters, and conditions for the frail and chronically ill are likely to get worse. Many NGOs are working hard to provide tents, food, water and sanitation, but we are all struggling with too few resources and worsening conditions.” 

To ease the overcrowding, the government of Tanzania started relocating thousands of Burundians from Nyarugusu to Nduta camp in early October 2015. In addition, all new arrivals from Burundi are now placed in Nduta which serves as home to more than 22,000 refugees – a number which is rising every day. While Nduta could house up to 50,000 people, a sharp increase in numbers would put resources such as health services, tents, water supplies and toilets under strain, and leave Burundians who have found safety in Tanzania without proper housing, at risk of poor health and receiving limited education and protection services. 

“Children in particular are at great risk and it’s key that we continue to provide support to vulnerable children including those unaccompanied and separated, by ensuring they are protected, have increased access to safe places and child protection material as well as providing them with emotional support,” said Jorgen Haldorsen, Country Director of Plan International Tanzania. 

Aid agencies face difficult decisions about where to use their limited resources so that Burundians are well supported across all the camps, as well as ensuring there is adequate presence at border points to provide emergency services upon arrival. Some organisations have already had to start reducing their work in Nyarugusu in order to set up systems in Nduta and a third site, Mtendeli, which has yet to open. 

Elijah Okeyo, Country Director for IRC in Tanzania, said: “While refugees in Europe are making headlines, the international community must also remember that the situation for Burundians in neighbouring countries is equally devastating.” 

Notes to editors

Program Information: 

  • Oxfam is supplying water and sanitation in both Nyarugusu and Nduta camps to over 78,000 people. We are supplying water, constructing toilets, bathing shelters and hand washing facilities, and educating people about the crucial importance of good hygiene in preventing disease.  Oxfam is supporting over 25,000 Burundian refugees in the DRC and over 45,000 people in Rwanda, countries which have also seen a large number of Burundian refugees arrive since the current crisis began in April 2015. 
  • Danish Refugee Council, as part of its emergency response, is responsible for Camp Management in Nduta camp and rehabilitating/constructing of schools and other camp services structures, and is engaged in protection activities. DRC will expand its emergency response in the same sectors in Mtendeli Camp to be opened soon. 
  • IRC working on a range of activities in Nyarugusu camp, including child protection, support to people with specific needs or disabilities, Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV), education and reproductive health. IRC has recently expanded its SGBV services in Nduta and Mtendeli camps and also runs three health posts at border entry points and transit centers. 
  • HelpAge International is supporting people with special needs including older people and people with disabilities in Nyarugusu and Nduta camps with age and disability appropriate items. HelpAge also offers rehabilitative services and refers people with special needs to relevant humanitarian services.   
  • Save the Children aims to support 12,000 children and their families in Nyarugusu camp with emergency child protection and education services. Save the Children is working alongside national partner Babawatoto Centre for Children and Youth, and the activities focus on creative arts, sports and non-formal education programmes for children and youth. 
  • Plan International is working in Nyarugusu camp to provide child protection, sanitation and hygiene promotion, and early childhood care and development.  In Nduta and Mtendeli camps (when it opens) Plan International is responsible for child protection including psycho-social support through Child Friendly Spaces, identification and registration of unaccompanied and separated children, case management and referrals for children requiring specific support.  In total, Plan International is currently reaching 35,000 children and adults in Tanzania and is also responding to the Burundi refugee crisis in Rwanda. 

According to UNHCR, Nyarugusu camp is currently hosting almost 160,000 refugees. Over 90,000 of these are Burundian refugees. There are also almost 64,000 Congolese refugees in the camp. There are currently over 3,400 registered unaccompanied or separated Burundian children in Nyarugusu Camp (42% girls).
Nduta camp opened on 7 October 2015. Out of around 20,000 refugees currently living there, 60% are children. There are already 491 registered unaccompanied or separated children (39% girls).

As part of the preparations for the influx, a third camp, Mtendeli, is planned to open by early December for additional refugees. 

Contact information

Meg Pruce at Oxfam mpruce1@oxfam.org.uk | +44 (0) 1865 472240 | +44 (0) 7824 824 359 

Attila Kulcsar | Humanitarian Media Officer | attila.kulcsar@oxfaminternational.org | +447471 142974 | Twitter @attilalondon

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