Do not ignore Burundi crisis, says Tearfund

14 July 2017

WILL BAXTER/TEARFUND

Forgotten: children sit waiting together, hungry and malnourished, in Gitega Province, Burundi

Forgotten: children sit waiting together, hungry and malnourished, in Gitega Province, Burundi

AMID reports of a “campaign of terror”, hundreds of people are fleeing Burundi every day, and yet the country has “fallen off the media radar”, Tearfund is warning.

Of a population of 11 million, three million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance, with 700,000 in need of emergency food.

Conflict, which arose in 2015, prompting warnings of a possible genocide (News, 18 December 2015), climate change, and eco­nomic collapse have driven the country, already one of the world’s poorest, into “crisis”, the charity says.

The UN reports that 415,854 Burundians are now refugees, with more than half now living in Tanzania, where between 300 and 500 a day have been arriving. The number has continued to rise this year.

Tearfund is partnering with churches to run 14 feeding centres inside the country, focusing on children under five, lactating mothers, and pregnant women. In addition to supplies, training in health and nutrition is provided.

”The big ask is they would like to do more, they just don’t have the resources,” the Head of East and Southern Africa at Tearfund, Donald Mavunduse, said this month. “Millions of people in Burundi continue to struggle without enough food and basics. The international community can do more, and must do more.”

Last month, the UN Security Council heard about grenade at­­tacks in the capital, Bujumbura, and continued reports of targeted arrests, arbitrary detention, torture, extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances. The Office of the United Nations High Commis­sioner for Human Rights (with whom the Burundian Government has suspended interaction) reports that “incitement to hatred and violence” has increased since April.

Many of the violations were committed by members of the National Intelligence Service and the police, it reports, sometimes assisted by members of the youth league of the ruling party, the Imbonerakure. In April, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, warned of a “campaign of terror” and raised the alarm about rallies where the Imbonerakure chanted calls to impregnate or kill op­­ponents.

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”Reports that senior officials were present at other rallies are very disturbing,” he said. “The Gov­ernment needs to stop pretending that the Imbonerakure are nothing but a community devel­opment group. Such blatant and brazen hate speech and incite­ment to violence must not be tolerated, nor encouraged.”

The Burundian government has refused to admit peacekeeping forces from both the UN and the African Union and has begun to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.

Jeremy Lefroy, the Conservative MP for Stafford, has raised the crisis in the House of Commons. On Tuesday of last week, he said that he planned to do so again.

”The African Union needs to take this crisis very, very seriously, and put much stronger pressure on the Burundian government to deal with issues such as the refugees and famine,” he said. “Regional players need to really do what they can to say to the President that it makes no sense for one of poorest countries in the world to be doing this to its own people, so they feel the have to flee.”

On Friday of last week, he asked asked about the high numbers of people fleeing “repression and human rights abuses . . . What is the Foreign Secretary doing to stimulate dialogue to resolve the political impasse there?”

Rory Stewart, minister for international development, said that the situation was  “very disturbing. We call, above all, on the Burundian President to respect the Arusha accords and to give proper space to the former Tanzanian Prime Minister in leading the peace talks.”

The Arusha agreement ended a decade of civil war. In 2015, the UN noted that "a broad array of actors” had warned President Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, that an attempt to seek a third term was “unconstitutional, and contrary to the spirit of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement”. 

In February, the Burundian government said that it would not attend regionally-led peace talks.

The parliamentary International Development Committee concluded in 2011 that DfID should reinstate its bilateral aid to Burundi and and warned that ending it was a “strategic mistake” that “makes it look like the UK is turning its back on the people of Burundi” and “could jeopardise our progress in a region that is struggling to develop after decades of conflict”.

DfID provided £5 million of hum­­anitarian aid to Burundi last year, and is supporting healthcare and education through multilateral programmes. Since 2015, it has supported more than 200,000 Burundian refugees in Rwanda and Tanzania, through £46 million of funding. The UK was the third largest bilateral donor to the regional refugee appeal in 2016.

In May, the UN increased its Burundi appeal to $250 million. To date, it has received less than two per cent of the required funds.

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