1967 to 1970 Biafra Genocide

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tanzania Refugee Camps Crisis

Murder, rape and fear in Africa: The hidden refugee crisis you need to know about - now


By RADHIKA SANGHANI
TANZANIA | October 10, 2016


Tanzania Refugee Camps Crisis
Nduta camp in Tanzania is home to thousands of Burundian refugees CREDIT: PLAN INTERNATIONAL/SALA LEWIS


To mark the International Day of the Girl on October 11, this week Telegraph Women is running a series of articles showing the reality of life for women in Tanzanian regufee camps; from girls fighting sexual violence to struggling families who take in strangers’ children. Radhika Sanghani reports.

In 2016, the word ‘refugee’ immediately evokes images of Syria. The ongoing atrocities in the Middle East - where millions are fleeing persecution and conflict - have, rightly, been well-documented. We've all read about the camps straining to accommodate vulnerable people; from the Jungle in Calais to Zaatari in Jordan. Many of us have donated to the cause.

But much of the coverage would have you believe that Syria is where the current refugee crisis begins and ends. That couldn't be further from the truth.

In Burundi, hundreds of thousands are trying to find safety in neighbouring countries. More than 1,000 refugees arrive weekly in Tanzania, 500 in Uganda, 230 in Rwanda and 200 in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They are fleeing the war-torn country of Burundi - and have been since April 2015.

More than 18 months have passed since political crisis broke out there, after Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza made a controversial bid for a third term in office, and was met with strong resistance. He was eventually elected, but since then, the country has been under the shadow of a sustained campaign of murders, disappearances and arrests of his opponents.

Last month, the number of Burundian refugees passed the 300,000 mark,according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It found that 60 per cent of these are children - unaccompanied minors, whose parents have been killed, or separated from them during the difficult journey from Burundi.

More than 160,000 are being hosted in camps in Tanzania. The first camps have reached capacity, so new ones have been created with UNHCR help. I visited Nduta, home to more than 66,000 refugees, to see the work charity Plan International is doing with unaccompanied children and teenagers living there.

I met children whose parents were murdered in front of their eyes. Young people who had made their way from Burundi to Tanzania, evading local militia and the youth wing of the ruling party, the Imbonerakure (the Government insists they are merely a political group - but locals live in fear of them). I met boys who fled a certain future as child soldiers, and girls who ran from rape.
It's important to help those who are in crisis - but don't make headlines

Many were unsuccessful. I spoke to one 16-year-old girl who now has a three-year-old child. She was raped by the men who killed her parents with a machete as she watched, and now lives in fear. I met a 15-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted multiple times in Burundi – and then again in the western Tanzanian camp of Mtendeli when she arrived. She now suffers with several mental health issues.

These young women are not safe. They have fled unimaginable horrors in their home countries and made the long journey to supposed safety - only to arrive at the camps and find the danger is far from over. There are high levels of sexual violence, with girls particularly at risk when they go to collect fire wood.

The UNHCR is trying to help the rising number of Burundian refugees. This year, it requested $175.1 million (£135m) in aid from the international community. So far, it has received $4.7 million (£3.6m) – just three per cent of what it needs to feed and house the refugees.

In contrast, 53 per cent of the $1.6 billion of funding needed for the Syrian crisis has been raised. That's an incredible figure, and more is desperately needed. But it's also important to widen our world view and help those who are in crisis - but don't make the headlines.

What’s happening in Burundi and its neighbouring countries - where violence, killings, abductions and torture are part of daily life, and camps struggle to feed refugees one full meal a day - is just as horrifying.

This week Telegraph Women will publish a series showing the reality of life in Tanzanian camps. We'll tell the stories of girls fighting sexual violence; struggling families who take in strangers’ children; and young women who just want to go to school.

When I asked the Burundian girls if they were happy to share their stories, they all said the same thing: “We want people to know what is happening to us. We don’t want to be forgotten.” The least we can do is listen.

Plan International is responding to the crises in both Tanzania and Rwanda, providing access to child-friendly safe spaces, psychosocial support for traumatised children, education and recreational activities, healthcare assistance and hygiene equipment. For more information on Plan International’s work or to make a donation call 0800 526 848 or visit www.plan-uk.org