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.