November 17, 1999

Brussels/New York, November 18, 1999 — Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today announced that it is suspending its intervention in the regroupment camps of the province of Bujumbura Rural, Burundi, due to poor conditions in the camps and inaccessibility to aid workers. About 300,000 people, or two-thirds of the province’s population, are living in 50 camp sites. They were regrouped by Burundian authorities as insecurity has increased in and around Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.

MSF had been bringing assistance to the population in these camps to save lives through primary relief intervention and prevention of epidemic diseases. These risks existed because of overcrowding, lack of drinking water, and lack of shelter at the start of the rainy season. The MSF intervention brought emergency relief assistance to 54,000 people in three camps: Ruyaga, Buhonga, Ruziba.

After two months of relief activities, basic conditions in these three camps are falling short of the vital minimum. Under these circumstances, the MSF intervention has little impact on the improvement of conditions for the regrouped people. Access to the regroupment sites has been limited for humanitarian agencies—in terms of both time and geographic area—for reasons of both security and distance. Travel to some of the camps takes up to an hour on foot, through areas that are subject to regular attacks by rebel forces and counter-attacks by the army.

Today, only 19 of some 50 sites have been visited for assessment by humanitarian agencies; within these, only 10 are effectively receiving assistance. The population in the camps has only limited access to health structures and to their own fields. These limiting factors do not permit effective assistance and prevention of epidemics and malnutrition.

Moreover, the conditions of the regroupment itself have deprived the population of its basic rights and are thus in complete opposition with the principles of MSF. Taking these considerations into account, MSF is suspending its intervention in the regroupment camps of the province of Bujumbura Rural. However, the organization plans to maintain support to other ongoing programs in Burundi and remains prepared to intervene in case of epidemic emergencies.

This decision was formalized by an official letter to the Burundian authorities.

In various previous meetings with the Burundian authorities, MSF expressed its grave concerns about the living conditions of the population in the regroupment camps, its opposition to the insufficient freedom of movement for this population, and its hopes that those responsible for the conflict will solve the larger problem.

MSF is the world's largest independent international medical relief agency aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters, and others who lack health care due to geographic remoteness or ethnic marginalization in more than 80 countries.

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