November 16, 2016

International assistance is urgently needed for refugees in Tanzania, where thousands of people are fleeing the crises in neighboring Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

Nearly a quarter million Burundian and Congolese refugees are now crammed into three overstretched camps while discussions on a fourth camp to host those still crossing the border continue to stall.

"With the total refugee numbers in the three camps predicted to hit more than 280,000 by the end of 2016, this is rapidly becoming one of Africa's biggest refugee crises," said David Nash, MSF head of mission.

Tens of thousands of refugees from Burundi have fled to Tanzania in the last four months—a sharp increase over previous months—and another 850 people from the Democratic Republic of Congo also arrived in October. Little has been done to increase humanitarian assistance. Nduta camp, where newly arrived refugees are being sent, is now full. 

"The current humanitarian response—especially in terms of shelter, water, and hygiene—will be unable to meet the needs of the many people arriving," said Nash. "With the unrest in Burundi showing no signs of abating, it is crucial that international assistance to the humanitarian effort in Tanzania is rapidly stepped up."

Slideshow: Burundian Refugees in Tanzania

Over recent months, food distributions have been threatened with cuts due to lack of funds. In October, the World Food Program officially announced a cut in food rations to 60 percent of the daily recommended nutritional intake, which was only forestalled by a last-minute donation. As the number of refugees increases, the risk of further cuts in the near future is a pressing concern.

Refugees are extremely vulnerable to contracting malaria in western Tanzania, where the disease is endemic. New arrivals to Nduta are temporarily housed in overcrowded communal shelters with up to 200 people, where the risk of transmission is even higher. While currently they are being transferred to smaller family tents after a few days, there are no guarantees that there will be sufficient shelter for the many people who continue to cross the border.

"With the rainy season approaching, we expect another spike in disease," said Nash. "As we saw last year, overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions, where stagnant water provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes, only magnify this. Weakened from travel, pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable."

Between January and August 2016, MSF teams in Nyarugusu and Nduta camps treated 72,644 cases of malaria, a large proportion of which were complicated cases. Ahead of the peak season, teams are again preparing for another influx of patients.

MSF is again calling for an increase in international aid efforts.

"The Tanzanian government—which has kept open its borders to respond to this crisis—should not have to shoulder the responsibility alone," Nash said "A rapid scale-up of assistance is required."

Burundian refugees began arriving in Tanzania in May 2015, settling in Nyarugusu camp, which was already home to about 60,000 Congolese refugees. Nyarugusu quickly became overcrowded, and two other camps were subsequently opened: Nduta in October 2015, and Mtendeli in January 2016. A fourth site to host refugees who continue to arrive has still not been identified.

MSF has been working in Tanzania since May 2015. Currently, teams are working in Nyarugusu and Nduta camps. In Nyarugusu, MSF runs a 60-bed emergency room and three malaria clinics and provides mental health consultations. MSF also distributes 180,000 liters of water per day. In Nduta, MSF is the major medical provider, running a 110-bed hospital and four health posts, and providing mental health support.

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