Editing Office - Geneva
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and 35 partners are today jointly appealing for US$296 million to provide desperately needed aid in 2019 to some 345,000 Burundian refugees in neighboring countries.
Burundi is one of the most neglected refugee situations globally. And measurably so; In 2018 it was among the world’s least-funded.
The consequences of this are being felt across the board by Burundian refugees in four neighbouring countries, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda. People are enduring cuts to food rations, lack of medicines, overcrowded schools and inadequate shelter. Despite the best efforts of all, a massive increase in support is needed to adequately provide for even the most basic needs.
Children, who make up more than half of the refugee population, are bearing the brunt. Many arrived in the countries where they are after having become separated from their parents or wider family. The challenges in providing safe and adequate foster care are significant. Others suffer psychological distress from the violence they have witnessed.
These children need psycho-social care. Access to education beyond primary school is far from what it should be. Just 20 per cent of secondary school-aged Burundian refugee children are enrolled in education. Across the region, more teachers and more educational resources are sorely needed. Classrooms are so overcrowded that in Tanzania students make do with trees for schoolrooms. Women and girls are suffering high levels of sexual and gender-based violence and exploitation. Makeshift and dilapidated shelters provide little protection. A lack of available materials for cooking and shelter construction is forcing women and girls to walk long distances to collect wood from outside the camps and settlements where they are isolated and vulnerable to attack.
Last year, food cuts were implemented in Tanzania, DRC and Rwanda. Families have been regularly left without enough food to last until the end of the month. Women and girls are resorting to negative coping mechanisms, including survival sex, and forced and early marriage.In light of policies in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC, that allow refugees to work and own businesses, a key objective is to help generate economic opportunities that will allow them to purchase supplementary food and make a living for themselves.While overall security has improved in Burundi, significant human rights concerns persist. Around 57,000 refugees have returned to Burundi since mid-2017, citing the wish to return to their houses and farms, and to reunite with family. Other returnees believe that conditions at home, no matter how challenging, will be an improvement on the situation they experienced as refugees.UNHCR does not believe conditions in Burundi are currently conducive to promote returns, however, we are assisting refugees who indicate they have made an informed choice to voluntarily return. We urge States to ensure that no refugee is returned to Burundi against their will. As more refugees are expected to voluntarily return during 2019, the appeal includes funding to assist and reintegrate returnees.In the meantime, an average of 300 refugees still flee Burundi each month, and UNHCR urges governments in the region to maintain open borders and access to asylum for those who need it.Last year, the inter-agency regional refugee response for Burundian refugees received just 35 per cent of the US$391 million requested. UNHCR urges the international community to accelerate and increase funding for this year’s appeal to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance and meet basic needs.