Red Cross doctor: "Our primary goal is to save lives."

Red Cross doctor: "Our primary goal is to save lives."

Dr George Lukindo, 33, is always smiling. It seems a bit out of place here, in the middle of a refugee camp, but as the lead doctor of the Tanzania Red Cross Society Mtendeli Hospital, he says he has good reason. Since the hospital opened in January 2016, even with a massive influx of patients, there has not been a single loss of life. It is something Dr George is extremely proud of considering the personal mantra he often repeats to anyone within earshot, “Our primary goal is to save lives.”

The hospital is supporting more than 4,000 Burundian refugees from the adjoining Mtendeli camp, as well as the surrounding villages. That number has increased as refugees were transferred from the overcrowded Nyarugusu camp some three hours south, to reduce pressure on limited resources.

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Pregnant in a refugee camp

Pregnant in a refugee camp

Citegetse Laurence is due at any moment. Literally. “I’m past nine months pregnant,” she says with a grin. A maternity ward nurse at the Tanzania Red Cross Society hospital in the Mtendeli refugee camp, she is more than familiar with the ins and outs of giving birth. And, as a refugee who recently escaped ongoing violence in her home country of Burundi, she is more than familiar with the challenges of being pregnant in such an environment. Unfortunately, Citegetse is not alone. 

The doctors at this hospital see an average of 120 patients per day. As refugees transferred to Mtendeli from the overcrowded Nyarugusu camp three hours to the south at the rate of 1,500 a week, that number continued to grow. Of those 120 daily patients, 50, on average, are pregnant. Walk into the hospital any day of the week and you will hear the cries of newborns and see their mothers breastfeeding. Walk throughout the camp and you will see pregnant women everywhere. One doctor tells me that the high fertility rate of Burundian women is their way of replacing the many they have lost. It is a heartbreaking way to think about new life in the world.

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A Glimpse Inside the Life of a Refugee

A Glimpse Inside the Life of a Refugee

To connect with families and friends in Burundi, Michel Ntirabampa uses the Red Cross free phone call service to contact them. He has been living in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in the Kigoma region of Tanzania.

"I am happy to talk to my relatives who are still in Burundi," he says.

On this particular day, women pound away hot cassava in a wooden trough next to Ntirabampa's tent. The cassava is almost ready but the ladies say it will need a few more minutes of pounding. It is tedious work that requires three to four women to ensure the cassava is well mashed.

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This Week in Restoring Family Links News 06/29/15 - 07/03/15

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.

Burundi: Nearly two months has passed since thousands of Burundians began to flee from their homes to escape pre-election violence. The uprising was in response to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third consecutive five-year term, which violates Burundi’s peace accord set in 2000 – stating a president may only serve two terms. Elections concluded on Monday–despite calls by the UN to postpone it to mid-July–and as grenades flew over polling stations and guns rattled through the streets, citizens fled. As of the elections, 10,000 additional refugees left Burundi, and the UNHCR reported that over 140,000 Burundians were declared displaced in four main neighboring countries: almost half are seeking refuge in Tanzania, 40% in Rwanda, and the remaining in DRC and Uganda. While these are staggering numbers, the realities hit home: 80% of these individuals were refugees before, and over 60% are children. Children often come unaccompanied, and are vulnerable to disease, malnutrition, and trauma.

Burundian family in Tanzania camp (British Red Cross)

Burundian family in Tanzania camp (British Red Cross)

With the highest number of refugees, most of the weight has fallen on Tanzania: Nygaragusu camp in Tanzania is home to 120,000 refugees, and before Burundians arrived, Nygaragusu was the home to 65,000 Congolese refugees. Combined, the population equals the size of Cambridge, England. The Red Cross is hard at work at Nygaragusu treating cases of cholera, improving access to clean drinkable water, providing medical care and psychological support, and reuniting families. However, resources are dwindling. The camp urges for more aid in order to accommodate newly arriving refugees, and aspire to build schools, hospitals, and new residences. The British Red Cross has pledged £50,000 from its Disaster Fund to help with the relief effort in Tanzania, and urges for more donations. 

Ukraine: Since 2013, war has raged across Ukraine due to political tensions between Ukraine and the EU council. Over the past two years, protests, violence, and political instability have uprooted millions from their homes into other parts of Ukraine, and in some cases, to other countries. As of last month, the UN reported that 1.3 million Ukrainians are internally displaced, (with many of them children), 6,500 civilians have been killed, and over 16,000 wounded. UN estimates demonstrate that more than 5 million people in Ukraine are in need of humanitarian support – a figure that sprung the EU into action.

Ukrainian refugees at a playground in Russia (AFP)

Ukrainian refugees at a playground in Russia (AFP)

This week, the EU pledged to increase humanitarian aid to Ukraine to €15 million, with a focus on the Eastern region as well as to aid children. EU leaders hold, “too many children are being left behind.” These sobering realities along with migrant influxes across the Mediterranean, especially in Italy, France, Hungary, and now Greece, will require the EU to tackle refugee and migrant issues head on. 

South Sudan: Looking back over the last 18 months, close to 2 million people have been forced from their homes since South Sudan descended into civil war due to conflict between nation’s leaders that rehashed old ethnic tensions. Yesterday, the UN mission in South Sudan declared that anti-government rebels opened fire on a peacekeeping base sheltering thousands of civilians, killing at least one person and wounding six others. In response, The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on six military commanders from South Sudan for perpetuating the conflict, and hope to continue to protect citizens. As of now, there is no word to who committed the crimes. 

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.