Tanzania: Camp for Burundian Refugees "At Breaking Point"

Eveline Meier/MSF

Note: An earlier version of this article erroneously reported that up to 1,000 people were crossing the border between Burundi and Tanzania each day. The article has been updated to reflect the correct figure.

As large numbers of refugees fleeing unrest in Burundi cross the border to neighboring Tanzania, the overcrowded refugee camp of Nyarugusu “has reached breaking point,” according to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency coordinator Sita Cacioppe. The influx of people has massively overstretched services in the camp, and aid agencies are struggling to provide sufficient food, water, shelter, and health care.

Up to 2,000–3,000 people are crossing the forested border between Burundi and Tanzania each day. Many travel under cover of darkness, on foot and without belongings. Currently an estimated 78,000 Burundians are sheltering in Nyarugusu camp, joining 64,000 Congolese refugees who have been there since 1997, when the camp was set up to host a maximum of 50,000 refugees fleeing civil war in Democratic Republic of Congo. “People are living for months at a time in mass shelters, intended as transit areas, while they wait for a tent,” says Cacioppe. “Our teams have seen more than 200 people sheltering in a tent measuring just 8 x 22 meters—which is less than one square meter of space per person.”

In May, MSF set up a cholera treatment center in the camp after an outbreak of the waterborne disease. Since then, MSF teams have vaccinated more than 107,000 people against cholera, and are distributing 270,000 liters of clean drinking water per day at five sites across the camp.

Alongside the Tanzanian Red Cross, MSF teams are also running mobile clinics to provide the refugees with basic health care and refer the most severe cases to hospitals. The most common complaints are malaria, diarrhea, and respiratory tract infections brought on by cold nights and ever-present dust. In the camp’s hospital, managed by the Tanzanian Red Cross, an MSF team runs a 30-bed inpatient therapeutic feeding center for children suffering from acute malnutrition with complications.

“The refugees desperately need to be provided with new areas to settle, and basic services, so that they can live more dignified lives,” says Cacioppe. 


One of the mobile clinics at Nyarugusu camp led by MSF teams in collaboration with the Tanzanian Red Cross. Every day the teams see between 100 and 250 patients, among them many young children suffering from malaria or malnutrition. Other common pathologies are diarrhea or respiratory infections due to living conditions. The triage allows to quickly identify very sick patients. Severe cases are transferred to the hospital, and severely malnourished children are taken to MSF’s supported ITFC.
Eveline Meier/MSF