The government and the United Nations refugee agency insist that Burundian refugees in the country face no risk from any epidemic amid confirmed cases of Cholera outbreak among those in Tanzania.
Reports from Tanzania indicate that 17 Burundian refugees in Kigoma region died from an outbreak of cholera arising from poor sanitation in temporary camps.
During a news conference at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (Midimar), yesterday, Minister Seraphine Mukantabana stressed that although there can be unavoidable cases of isolated illness given the reality on the ground, there has been no epidemic in Rwanda since the refugees started trickling in.
“No unusual disease or epidemic has manifested in the camps ever since Burundian refugees started coming into Rwanda. We have health units and whenever need be, health centres in the areas nearby are used,” said the minister.
She reiterated that apart from strengthening the response strategy, more facilities were being established at reception points and Mahama Refugee Camp in Kirehe District.
Latest figures from Midimar indicate that by Monday evening, 26,796 refugees had arrived, among them 13,891 children.
UNHCR country representative Saber Azam said over 105,000 Burundians have now fled the restive country on the south of Rwanda, with over 70,000 crossing to neighbouring Tanzania, and over 9,000 to DR Congo.
“This shows the intensity of the instability in Burundi,” Azam said.
“I might not know the situation in Tanzania well but there are some health challenges that refugees are facing there. The issue is that many people are stranded on an island in Lake Tanganyika. Access to this huge number of people (about 25,000) is difficult and, therefore, accessibility to basic hygienic services is very difficult.
Azam added that UNHCR was “extremely pleased” with the response by Rwandan government because the latter opened its borders for people who flee violence and political tension, in addition to taking a “very courageous decision” to immediately recognise the status of the refugees.
The government last month granted all Burundians fleeing from the political unrest back home a blanket refugee status.
Hundreds of others have entered the country but opted to find their own means of accommodation in cities and other locations.
The government will next week start a process of registering them.
In case the refugee numbers hit 50,000 – a number which government has previously noted is all Rwanda can handle – efforts are on track to appeal to other East African Community member states to share the burden.
In such a case, Rwanda would facilitate a passage for the extra refugees to another country. All countries neighbouring Burundi are affected, the minister said, adding that regional leaders were engaged in efforts to contain the Burundi crisis.
‘Don’t fret over FDLR’
Asked about claims that elements of the genocidal FDLR militia were infiltrating the refugee exodus and taking advantage to enter Rwanda, Mukantabana said Rwandans have no cause to worry.
“If at all they came without causing trouble and not armed but perhaps because they were too embarrassed to return openly, and only want to take advantage of the Burundi refugee situation to return home, we would welcome them and reintegrate them into society as usual,” the minister said.
“But if they happened to return with a hidden agenda, I am sure the security organs are well prepared.”