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Africa

Burundian refugees face cholera threat in Tanzania

The UN refugee agency UNHCR says an outbreak of cholera has infected 3,000 people in a Tanzanian border region, where the population has increased dramatically due to an influx of refugees from Burundi.

The Burundians fled to Tanzania during recent weeks to escape political unrest sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial bid for a third term in office. This is widely considered to be unconstitutional.

Violence flared after a group of soldiers launched a coup attempt while Nkurunziza was in Tanzania in mid-May to take part in a regional conference on the crisis. The attempt was unsuccessful when soldiers loyal to the president fought the coup plotters back. Fighting lasted for days forcing more than 64,000 Burundians to flee to neighboring Tanzania, while thousands more travelled to DR Congo and Rwanda.

In Tanzania, the refugees are crammed into overcrowded camps.

A crowd of Burundian refugees

Tanzania's border region has been inundated by refugees from Burundi

The Nyarugusu refugee camp in the Kigoma region has a capacity of 55,000, but now houses about 100,000 people.

The camps lack basic amenities including clean drinking water and poor hygiene. This situation has led to an outbreak of cholera. Between 300 and 400 new cases are being reported daily and more than 30 people have died.

International agencies 'overwhelmed'

Emergency measures are being taken to deal with the cholera outbreak, Rutasha Dadi, representative officer of the UN Population Fund UNFPA in Kagunga, told DW. Most sick people are treated at the camp, while those suffering from severe dehydration are taken to the larger town of Kigoma. UNICEF, the Red Cross and other aid organizations are "working day and night to ensure there is a safe supply of water," Dadi said.

Between 500 and 2,000 Burundians are now reported to be arriving daily in Kagunga, a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Dadi said many of the refugees were in a bad state mentally after leaving their homes. "They have lost hope," he said.

Prior to the refugee exodus, the population of Kagunga was 11,380. It is now over 90,000. According to Dadi, this is affecting the provision of services and international aid agencies are "overwhelmed." Many people are suffering from diarrhea. The number of malaria cases is also increasing.

On a positive note, Dadi said cooperation and coordination were working well "from national to village level." High level meetings were being held in Dar es Salaam and there were daily medical briefings.

Protesters in Bujumbura, Burundi

In Bujumbura, the protests against President Nkurunziza continue

The UNHCR and its partners appealed for help on Friday, saying $207 million (188 million euros) is needed to respond to the humanitarian crisis and help the estimated 200,000 Burundians now in Tanzania, DR Congo and Rwanda.

Meanwhile in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, demonstrators say they will continue to protest until President Nkurunziza steps down at the end of his second term. The president however does not seem to be ready to back down on his third term bid, leaving no end in sight to the refugee crisis.

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