The European Commission plans to release Euro 1.5 million (about Rwf1 billion) to support Rwanda’s assistance and protection of Burundian refugees.
In a statement, released yesterday, the EU commission said the money is part of the Euro 47 million of total humanitarian aid earmarked for the Great Lakes region for 2015.
“Such sudden and massive displacement is a humanitarian tragedy and a serious challenge to neighbouring countries’ capacities to accommodate refugees,” EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, is quoted as saying in the statement. “It is a serious concern in an already fragile region.”
The European Commission acknowledges that Rwanda, DR Congo and Tanzania are experiencing flows of refugees from Burundi, who cite intimidation, threats, or fear of violence as reasons for fleeing.
Over 30,000 people, the majority being women and children, have fled already, with more feared to follow suit.
The surge follows last week’s clashes in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura between police and opposition after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his readiness to run for a third term as president in the upcoming elections, due in June.
Refugees say Imbonerakure (Kirundi for “those that see far”), a youth wing of Burundi’s ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for Defense and Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party harass members of opposition political parties.
By Monday evening, a total 24,635 refugees had been registered in Rwanda, according to statistics from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (Midimar).
Last week, UNHCR country representative, Saber Azam, told The New Times that donors should know that the number is increasing and “each individual needs shelter, health care, water,” as well as many other necessities “and all that is not free of charge.”
“With all the will that the Government of Rwanda has, it needs to be supported,” Azam said.
Martin Karimi, a media contact officer at the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) office in Nairobi, Kenya, told this newspaper that every year, ECHO sets aside a certain amount of money per country or region to help it respond to on-going or new humanitarian crises quickly.
“Because the displacement from Burundi is a new and unfolding crisis, ECHO has now decided to take EUR 1.5 million and direct it to meet the needs of the new refugees – an additional crisis that was not foreseen,” he said.
Karimi said ECHO does not implement assistance programmes, but funds operations through partners, including international NGOs and UN agencies.
“The funds released by ECHO will be channelled through these partners who will then provide the most needy refugees with assistance such as shelter, clean water, food, medicines, etc. according to their needs. The process of disbursing the funds is only beginning, so at the moment we cannot tell the actual partners that will be involved in this emergency response,” he said.
Regarding refugee support, Martina Pomeroy, UNHCR-country external relations officer, said: “UNHCR is keeping donors informed regularly and our traditional donors are closely monitoring the situation, some have expressed to us a willingness to support the Burundi refugee response which is very encouraging and we are very happy to see ECHO’s announcement.”
The UNHCR is coordinating an interagency fundraising appeal, “the Refugee Response Plan for the Burundi Emergency,” which will consolidate the total needs for all UN agencies and concerned NGOs to respond to the influx of Burundian refugees in Rwanda, making it clear and presentable to donors, she said.
On Monday, Rwanda urged the Government of Burundi to take immediate necessary steps to ensure the protection of its population, end the worsening humanitarian situation and restore peace.
In a statement, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, said: “We appeal to leaders of Burundi to do everything in their power to bring the country back to a peaceful situation. We will continue to work with the region and the international community to support peace.”
Mwanwhile, Burundi’s constitutional court, yesterday, ruled that Nkurunziza can run for a third term, an announcement that led to renewed protests in the capital. The court’s ruling, a copy which The New Times has seen, was not signed by its vice-president Sylvere Nimpagaritse, who fled to Rwanda on Monday.
Moses Havyarimana, a Burundian journalist in Bujumbura, on Tuesday told The New Times that government had ordered police not to shoot at protestors. The latter erected road barricades with piles of stones in parts of the city.
Havyarimana said: “The situation is calm today. Tomorrow we expect more protests though. It’s calm when the police don’t attack. We heard the government ordered police not to shoot at the protesters. Residential areas in Bujumbura are controlled by protestors, checking who is getting in and out.”