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Revised Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan April – September 2015 (August 2015)

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Once the humanitarian partners engaged in the response to the Burundian refugees’ influx agreed to launch a Regional Refugee Response Plan (Regional RRP) on 22 May, the situation on the ground in Burundi and in the region was already of great concern. Yet, a political solution to the crisis appeared possible, and several efforts were deployed in this sense, most notably the mediations of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, the African Union and the of the East African Community. However, these attempts have so far proven unsuccessful, the situation has further deteriorated and the flow of refugees that pre-emptively fled Burundi, ahead of the elections, has not stopped, but actually rather increased.

In the introduction of the initial Regional RRP, it was stated that ‘as the situation in Burundi remains tense, unstable and largely unpredictable, it is expected that more Burundians will flee the country in even larger numbers’. As of 20 July, the number of refugees had exceeded 177,500 in just three months.

Since March 2015, socio-political tensions have been rising in Burundi ahead of the general elections. The upcoming Presidential elections, postponed several times took place on 21 July, are considered a critical milestone for the long-term peace and stability of the country. Protests between supporters of the opposing political parties became increasingly violent, initially in the capital Bujumbura and then quickly spread to the rest of the country. In particular, intimidation by militia groups has been cited as one of the main reasons by Burundians to flee to neighbouring countries. Since the beginning of April, a steady outflow of Burundians has been taking place first into the Republic of Rwanda (Rwanda) and, from May onwards, increasingly to the United Republic of Tanzania (Tanzania), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and to a lesser extent as far away as Zambia.

Several key events in Bujumbura, such as the 26 April 2015 announcement of the current President’s intention to run for a third term, considered by the opposition as a violation of the Arusha Agreements of 2000, and the attempted coup by military leaders on 13 May while the President was on a visit to Tanzania, have resulted in more violence in and around Bujumbura. Inevitably, the outflow of Burundians to neighbouring countries has dramatically increased. On 22 April, UNHCR declared an L1 emergency and on 11 May, in response to the worsening of the situation, a L2 emergency was declared and a Regional Refugee Coordinator was appointed.

The legislative elections, initially postponed, were eventually held on 29 June– the opposition boycotted them and the ruling party, Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), won 77 out of 100 available seats. Several stakeholders among the international community withdrew their support to the electoral process as well as various cooperation arrangements that were previously in place.

The threat posed by militia groups is still large and violence is not expected to scale down throughout and after the end of the electoral process. In a country that has a long history of ethnic and political violence, and with an overwhelming population that live under the poverty line, this current set of events could have wide-ranging negative knock-on effects on the entire Great Lakes region, making old conflict tensions resurface.

While the situation remains fluid and comprehensive scenario planning is difficult, the needs of refugees, who flee through difficult areas to reach safety, are increasing. The Governments of the neighbouring countries that are receiving Burundian refugees need quick and strong support from humanitarian partners to address the situation. This revised Regional Refugee Response Plan aims at addressing the current and evolving needs for a six-month period, from April until end-September, and will be reviewed as the situation inside Burundi evolves.