Burundi: Refugees in camps fear starvation as donor halves food allowances

By Avit Ndayiziga

Over 56,000 refugees who escaped the ongoing war conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reside in five camps in Burundi. Together with local victims of climatic shocks and those displaced by the rising water levels of Lake Tanganyika, they foresee malnutrition and starvation as the donor cuts by half their food aid due to funding dwindling. Burundi’s World Food Program (WFP) reported a plan to cut food assistance. 

Refugees camps localization on a map of Burundi.

No wonder,  the cost of everything from fuel to food has skyrocketed. This has caused the WFP Burundi to grapple with food inflation and other pressing humanitarian needs. 

But here, refugees and local victims wonder: “Is this the start of another food crisis for us vulnerable? “If the WFP is struggling to secure enough funding to feed refugees, what about low-income earners? “.

Claude Kakule, WFP’s Deputy Country Director for Burundi, says that this UN food agency is compelled to cut food aid by half for the next six months starting from April 1, 2023. As he noted, the decision concerns refugees in camps only. 

Claude Kakule, WFP’s Deputy Country Director for Burundi

According to him,  WFP Burundi requires an immediate injection of 7.1 million USD to reinstate complete food rations for refugees. 

To meet the refugee’s daily calorie requirement of 2,100 kilocalories, the World Food Program will be providing cash or food equivalent to $0.55 per refugee instead of $1.1. 

The UN official has emphasized that the WFP is facing funding shortfalls and soaring food prices, partly due to the ongoing war in Ukraine and other challenges that plague the world. 

“Insufficient financial resources hinder our effort to provide food to all refugees. These are due to several factors compounding this issue, including a war going on in the eastern part of Congo, resulting in a large influx of new refugees and asylum seekers entering Burundi sparking other extra funding needs. In this case, we do not have any other choice but to wisely use the available resources, therefore, we opted to cut them in half. He underlined.” 

The official points out that COVID-19, climate change effects, and the high cost of food exacerbate humanitarian needs requiring extra funding. 

These declarations elicited tears from flood victims residing in the Sobel and Mafubo settlements. They have been waiting for food aid for almost a year. 

Rosa Misigaro, a single parent of two, laments about the level of starvation they are facing to the extent that pupils find nothing to eat after classes. 

“For instance, I am a widow, there is a time whereby we spend a night without eating anything. On my behalf, there is no need to halve our food quantity considering how we are starving. But the most important thing is that they send us back to where we came from or they give us money to rent houses on our own,” she underlined. 

Pascasie Ndabirinde, another flood victim with three children, cries that she can no longer feed them all. 

Pascasie Ndabirinde, a flood victim with three children living Mafubo site

“I cannot feed them all, I have dispatched two of them to my relatives living in Bujumbura city due to this extreme hunger. We are starving,” she lamented. 

Ndabarinde adds, “We only eat once a day after farming jobs that we do not get daily. I now suffer from a heart attack due to hunger. If they halve our food, it is not a problem as long as they bring us the little they say they can provide us with.” 

Haruna Nshimirimana, one of the Sobel site leaders, says that the WFP used to provide them with food but it has been a whole year since they told them to wait. 

Haruna Nshimirimana, one of the Sobel site leaders

“It seems that they have abandoned us. We know that life is difficult now, and we do not have any choice. What we beg them, is to bring us the little they have to save our lives, otherwise, we are dying of this horrible hunger we are facing,” he warned. 

At this point, the WFP’s high official in Burundi says that flood scarcity victims are internal refugees whose case is in the hands of the government. He also indicated that the WFP had food support during their first six months only. 

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Burundi, refugees, were 84,648 refugees and 3,951 asylum seekers as of 31 December 2022, and 98.7% of them fled the DRC. 

The ration cut will worsen food insecurity and the nutritional status of refugees and could further exacerbate tensions between host and refugee communities around the camps and transit centers. 

Brigitte Mukanga-Eno, the UNHCR Burundi representative, maintains a positive outlook on the host community’s sociability and welcoming attitude towards refugees. She opposes resettlement as a sustainable solution to end the refugee crisis. 

Brigitte Mukanga-Eno, the UNHCR Burundi representative

“While there are agreements with numerous countries for resettlement programs, only 1% of refugees who meet the criteria are eligible. It is not reasonable for refugees to remain in camps for 20 good years waiting for resettlement”. Warns the UNHCR official.

For instance, Brigitte adds, “The initial quota allocation for Burundi was 4100; of which 4,000 were for the USA and 100 for Canada, out of the 18,500 refugees identified as needing resettlement to Burundi in 2022. By the end of the year, a total of 4,264 refugees, representing 100.04%, have been submitted for resettlement consideration in 2022, while 1,298 have departed for the USA, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Norway, and France in 2022“. She concluded.

For her, livelihood opportunities should be prioritized over resettlement. Therefore, refugees are encouraged to engage in income-generating activities.  

To this end, a new project called TURIKUMWE, which translates to “We are Together,” has been launched to facilitate collaboration between refugees and host communities.

“This project aims to empower refugees to achieve financial sustainability while improving their access to basic services and economic opportunities, as well as enhancing nutrition in the areas they reside,” explained Mukanga-Eno. 

TURIKUMWE also seeks to promote social cohesion and strengthen relationships between refugees and host communities by providing assistance to all groups and encouraging joint planning, decision-making, and implementation,” she concluded.

The World Bank funds the project with 60 million US dollars throughout 2021-2025. 

Burundi, like other East African Countries, shelters countless refugees who have fled their homelands due to ongoing war, hunger, and other forms of persistent violence. 

It should be noted that the WFP managed to secure USD102 million in 2022, representing a 107 percent funding level, that allowed it to deliver assistance to 995,651 beneficiaries including 20,368 returnees, 55,577 refugees, 908,067 residents, and 11,639 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). 

WFP in collaboration with UNHCR, Caritas, and Help a Child delivered food assistance to refugees. WFP provided life-saving food assistance to 55,577 refugees in camps and transit centers. In total, 3,739 mt of food and USD 3,7 million were distributed.

The WFP cut food rations for refugees in some Eastern African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Djibouti in 2020, and those in Burundi, Chad,  and Bangladesh in 2023. 

With the military efforts that the East African Community is deploying and the ongoing negotiations between warring parties, Kakule hopes that the conflictual situation in DRC will finally end sooner or later. 

This story was supported by Insight Africa

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