Church in Burundi responds to people displaced by political tension

Posted May 20, 2015

[Anglican Alliance] Recent political tensions in Burundi have increased uncertainty and fear of violence, leading to displacement in the country, with more than 100,000 people reported to have fled in recent days. The Church in Burundi is calling for prayers for peace, while it also responds to the needs of vulnerable people.

After several weeks of political tension, the situation escalated last week with an attempted coup and struggle over control of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. The tensions began when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would stand for a third term as president in elections at the end of June. The constitution limits the presidential tenure to two terms.

Recent weeks have seen violent street protests and a large exodus of people leaving the country concerned for their safety. This is considered the worst outbreak of violence since the civil war ended in 2005.

Last week’s events have resulted in a huge increase in displacement as people flee in fear. A UNHCR report on Friday, May 15, shows 105,000 people have left the country, with 70,000 refugees in Tanzania alone.

Oxfam reports that “new arrivals cite fear of violence and intimidation as primary reasons for leaving. Tens of thousands are in urgent need of clean water, adequate sanitation, health care, food and shelter. Without these basic needs being met, the risk of disease spreading among new arrivals is dangerously high.”

The Anglican Church in Burundi is among the Christian Aid partners that are preparing to respond to the needs of people affected by the ongoing situation in Burundi. Christian Aid reports that partners are now assessing the needs on the ground and coordinating their response. They have received funding to work alongside communities to support them to prepare local contingency plans that can be activated in the event of a crisis.

Christian Aid Country Manager for Burundi, James Robinson, said: “The situation is very volatile and things are tense in and around Bujumbura particularly. Many people have been staying indoors, not moving because of the threat of gunfire, wondering what will happen next. People are scared to leave their homes.

“Since the demonstrations began life for many Burundians has been paralyzed, with local trade, transport and public services all affected. As the protests continue, stocks of goods such as petrol, food, medicine and water are becoming scarce. Any further disruption threatens to leave communities both insecure and without essential items. With the high levels of poverty in the country, it’s the poorest who are the least able to cope.”

Before the attempted coup last week, Bishop Eraste Bigirimana of Bujumbura had already asked for prayers as the situation was becoming worse in Bujumbura city. Most of the offices and shops are now closed. Many people have been killed, others seriously injured and admitted to hospital. Five hundred are in jail, thousands have fled the country. “We are now receiving a big number of people, especially children, coming to our home seeking for security and protection,” Bigirimana says.

Mothers’ Union President Mathilde Nkwirikiye also asks for continued prayers, for tolerance and for discernment of God’s will for His people. Nkwirikiye has already taken in several children evacuated from the Rainbow Centre where the foster families are living in the danger zones, with other members doing likewise. The Rainbow Centre is planning a wider response to support vulnerable children during this uncertain period.