Supporting Burundian refugees in Tanzania

Davide Prata | November 13, 2015

Participants at a Sexual and Gender Based Violence training in Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Davide Prata / CWS

Participants at a Sexual and Gender Based Violence training in Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Davide Prata / CWS

I am sitting on an old wooden school desk in the youth center of Nduta refugee camp. I am looking at more than fifty single mothers, all of them refugees from Burundi.

Today we are all attending a training organized by CWS, in partnership with Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service, to raise awareness on human rights and prevention of gender based violence. Two facilitators are passing on their knowledge and the women are sharing experiences and wisdom.

All of them share a similar story: escaping from their home country and entering Tanzania through muddy roads and police patrols.

Many of these stories are heavy. Among them is Maria, who was beaten and abused by her husband in Burundi. Drunkenness and domestic violence were recurring events in her family.

Burundi is a long journey away from the youth center where I sit today. Tanzania has granted these women and children asylum and land to pitch family tents. Each tent hosts six people; eight tents share a common latrine and bathing shelter. Life in the camps is difficult for the over 110,000 Burundian refugees. Freedom of movement is limited and there are no work opportunities. Coping with this new camp environment and the evolving situation is a challenge for many refugees.

Every woman attending the training has at least one child following her; all of the children are sleeping, crying or looking with interest at the new location around them. Seeing them I am proud of the good work we are doing and concerned with resources and funds still needed to continue our work.

The political violence in Burundi started in April 2015 and is still escalating. Following the government plan last week to forcibly disarm opposition movements, thousands of refugees are now moving from their homes seeking a safe place to live. CWS and UNHCR staff share the same concern for the situation in Burundi and a new emergency response mechanism is being developed. Unfortunately this will happen within the same refugee camps already at their capacity limit.

CWS has been working with the refugees since the beginning of the emergency. Numerous successful activities have been conducted in Nyarugusu and we recently started new programs in Nduta and Mtendeli camps.  We are helping refugees in restoring their community and family links, providing community-based psychosocial support and improving their well-being. We are also building family latrines and soon we will be drilling two new boreholes in Mtendeli refugee camp to provide safe water.

CWS, in partnership with TCRS and the ACT alliance, are at the front line of this emergency. We are helping thousands of refugees and we are doing it with the highest qualitative standards and a unique human touch — the women and children I am with today deserve no less.

Davide Prata is a CWS Emergency Coordinator in Tanzania.