International Reconnecting Families Bulletin: Burundi

Burundian refugees gather on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village in Kigoma region in western Tanzania, as they wait for  MV Liemba  to transport them to Kigoma township, May 17, 2015. (Reuters)

Burundian refugees gather on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village in Kigoma region in western Tanzania, as they wait for MV Liemba to transport them to Kigoma township, May 17, 2015. (Reuters)

The uncertainty in Burundi in relation with elections scheduled for May/June 2015, provoked the departure of civilians to its neighboring countries (Rwanda/DR Congo/Tanzania). The movement intensified and current figures of Burundians having fled to neighboring countries is approximately 103,000 persons. Demonstrations started on April 27th in Bujumbura, resulting in several hundred arrested, dozens of dead and more than two hundred wounded persons.

The current estimate of the number of people who have fled is based on information provided by different sources (including the UN Refugee Agency and authorities of the host countries):

Rwanda: approximately 26,000 persons

DR Congo: approximately 7,000 persons

Tanzania: approximately 70,000 persons.

Reconnecting Families Needs and Response

Burundi

From the beginning of demonstrations. the Burundian Red Cross has been one of the main actors for evacuation of the wounded and dead (in addition to Civilian Protection, other Government and non-Government Organizations). The Burundian Red Cross transported over 200 wounded and several dead bodies between April 27th and May 11th.

There are no immediate Restoring Family Links (RFL) needs identified as a result of demonstrations in Bujumbura or in the provinces affected by the civilians' departure to neighboring countries. However, close follow-up is in place by the Burundian Red Cross and the ICRC. The ICRC supported the Burundian Red Cross in logistics (fuel and cars) and communication (VHF radios). 

Burundian Red Cross maintains contacts with Bujumbura Hospitals' morgues in order to verify if there are any deceased for which the families would need to be informed. So far, all dead bodies were reported to have been handed over to their families. 

The ICRC had access to main places of detention where the majority of arrested demonstrators are kept. The ICRC maintains close contacts with Bujumbura hospitals in case of any material need for treatment of the wounded.

Rwanda:

As of May 12th there were an estimated 26,000 Burundian refugees in Rwanda, with approximately 21,000 in the newly established Mahama Refugee Camp (Kirehe District, Eastern Province) and approximately 5,000 in transit centers. In addition, there may be some 2,000 – 4,000 in urban centers, which remain to be surveyed.

The ICRC, in close cooperation with the Rwandan Red Cross Society (RRCS), has deployed the necessary human and material resources in order to offer reconnecting families services to those in need. Two Rwandan Red Cross Society (RRCS) volunteers have been deployed in each site (three transit centers and one refugee camp) since they opened, supported by one/two ICRC Field Officers per site.

In support of this RFL response, ICRC has also coordinated with the Rwandan authorities as well as other agencies (national and international) responding to the refugee influx. To date, the ICRC, in cooperation with RRCS, has registered 425 unaccompanied children, of which 190 have regained contact with their families in Burundi via RFL phone call services, and provided 2,845 Phone Calls (1,715 family links restored).

DR Congo:

According to the latest information, there are 142 unaccompanied children in the DRC who are scattered among the local population and previous Burundian refugees living on the Ruzizi plain. On the 5th and 6th of May 2015, the ICRC in DRC organized a first evaluation field trip with two teams. The limited information available, the vast geographic distances and the bad quality of the roads made it difficult to locate these children. On May 12th, however, three children were registered.

Tanzania:

As of May 15, 2015, the number of refugees is estimated to be around 70,000 persons in Kigoma region, of which 50,000 are in the peninsula of Kagunga. With this high number of refugees, ICRC is supporting the National Society to heighten its Restoring Family Links response.  The Tanzanian Red Cross Society (TRCS), supported by ICRC, has recruited and is training five RFL volunteers and will recruit and train ten more. The ICRC together with the TRCS will evaluate the reconnecting families needs in Kigoma region next week and adapt its response accordingly.

As of May 15, 2015, 120 unaccompanied minors were registered, 965 phone calls were made, and 43 in-camp family reunification took place. 

If you or someone you know has lost contact with loved ones due to the situation in Burundi, the Red Cross can help you reconnect. For more information on the reconnecting families services of the Red Cross or to start your search today, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.

Volunteer Appreciation Week: This week, the Restoring Family Links blog celebrated the amazing contributions of volunteers to the American Red Cross through their work with the RFL program. From the program’s Advocate in Chicago helping an unaccompanied minor reconnect with his mother, to the story of Manyang Reath who was reconnected with his mother by the Red Cross and now volunteers for the program, the work of reconnecting families would not be possible without the dedication of these volunteers. Many other organizations also rely on the passion and commitment of volunteers to support their services. Volunteers with Catholic Charities in Nashville work to help refugee youths make the transition to living in the US. Thank you to all the volunteers who make the work of the American Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations possible!

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Rwandan Genocide: This week was the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide. Over a 100-day period in 1994, extremist Hutus slaughtered over one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. 20 years later, the memories live fresh in the minds of those who survived the violence. Ever since the genocide, refugees continue to remain in the surrounding nations for fear of returning to their home nation. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) alone is home to over 200,000 of these refugees. While it should never take genocide to remind the world the necessity of preventing genocide, many have taken the Rwandan tragedy as a call to action for preventing future atrocities. The Rwandan and Israeli governments and civil societies have come together through their shared experience of genocide to promote awareness and prevention. While one humanitarian worker who helpless witnessed the violence in Rwanda from neighboring DRC calls on the international community to end the ongoing humanitarian crises in the Central African Republic and DRC.

Migrants: Last year, the tragedy in Lampedusa drew the world’s attention to the thousands of deaths that happen annually as migrants attempt to reach Europe by boat from North Africa. As Spring arrives and the waters of the Mediterranean begin to calm, the number of migrants who attempt this trek is expected to increase substantially, especially those seeking asylum from the political oppression in Eritrea. This past week alone, Italian authorities reported that 4000 migrants were rescued from the sea. This increase will necessitate immigration reform in the EU and calls on the international community to address the humanitarian crises currently driving migration. In the Americas, Honduran migrants injured during the treacherous migratory route from Central America to the US have called on the Mexican government to provide better protection for migrants. In a series by NPR, the lives of migrants as well as those who live along the US-Mexico border are shown. Meanwhile as immigration reform continues to stall in the US, bipartisan meetings begin to show signs of hope for an agreement in the coming years

Story Campaign March Recognition: Each month for the story campaign, every contributor from that month is being entered into a drawing for special recognition. We are excited to announce that March's special recognition is going to Bob Wiltz for his story on the work of the Greater Chicago Region to educate young adults about international humanitarian law and the struggles faced by refugees. In addition to the small prize for contributing to the blog, Bob will receive a certificate thanking him for his contributions to the outreach efforts of the Restoring Family Links program and recognizing his volunteerism and blog on the American Red Cross blog.