Conditions Worsen for Refugees Fleeing Burundi's Ethnic Upheaval
Refugees from Burundi in Rwanda say massacres continue a month after a failed military coup
MUKINDO, RWANDA — THROUGH the opening to his family's tiny banana-leaf hut in an overcrowded refugee camp here, 18-year-old Emanuel can look across a narrow, muddy river and see his own country, Burundi. But for him, and nearly 1 million more refugees from Burundi who have fled to Rwanda and other neighboring countries, going home may take a long time, despite the sickness, hunger, and deaths in camps like this one.
A month after an aborted military coup in Burundi by members of the Tutsi ethnic group, recently arrived refugees say massacres of the Hutu people by Tutsis continue. Most of the refugees here, including Emanuel, are Hutu.
Emanuel says he will not go home until ``there's peace, ... when it's announced there is a new president.''
Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi's first Hutu president who was elected in June, was assassinated in the Oct. 21 coup. Although Hutus comprise 85 percent of Burundi's population, the military is almost entirely Tutsi.
There are 50,000 refugees in the Mukindo camp alone, where the Belgian branch of Doctors Without Borders and the Rwandan Red Cross are handling much of the relief work. Some 700,000 Burundi refugees are now in Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zaire. Another 180,000 were already in Rwanda as a result of earlier ethnic violence in Burundi and were preparing to return home, encouraged by Ndadaye's election.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimates another 150,000 people are internally displaced in Burundi.
In Bujumbura, the capital, surviving members of the Ndadaye government are too afraid to go anywhere without the protection of French soldiers. And in this camp, the refugees know they have no one to protect them if they return to their villages. So they continue to live in huts only a few inches apart.
``I don't want to go back now,'' says Emanuel, shaking his head. His sister and brother, sitting with him on the dirt floor, agree.
Meanwhile, sickness and death are mounting among the refugees amid a lack of food, clean water, and sanitation facilities, according to relief officials.
``There is a deterioration of their condition,'' says Marwan al-Khoury, an official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), of the estimated 350,000 Burundi refugees who have arrived in Rwanda since the coup. Among these refugees, about 100 are dying daily, some 40 percent may have malaria, and dysentery has hit up to one-fourth as they struggle on two-thirds of the normal food ration, the UNHCR says.
WFP decided to send less than full rations, based on ``limited availability of food at the moment,'' but is planning to increase the ration in early December, says WFP spokeswoman Brenda Barton. UN officials say they have received only a fraction of the money they need from international donors.
A Western church official who recently toured some of the affected areas in Burundi reports seeing some villages completely empty of people. In other places, people were hiding from the military but emerged to greet the church visitors.
A member of Ndadaye's staff told the church workers there were three waves of killings after the attempted coup. First, Tutsi soldiers slaughtered civilian Hutus, then Hutus took revenge, and then Tutsis countered with more killing.
On the Burundi side of the river, several Hutu refugees returning from collecting farm crops or personal items from their nearby villages insist that the killing of Hutus is not over.
``The war continues,'' says one man, adding that more Hutus will seek refuge in Rwanda. Some killings by Tutsis take place in broad daylight, he insists.
A frightened young man who recently arrived in this camp says he witnessed the recent murder of a number of Hutu civilians by the Tutsi. ``The military come and give [military] uniforms to Tutsi civilians to go point out where there are Hutus,'' he claims. ``I've seen massacres with my own eyes. I hid in the forest.''
Such killings have ignited new hatreds of the Tutsi among the Hutu refugees. Now, says one elderly woman at the camp, ``There's no way they can get along. The Tutsi have done bad things.''
The animosity between Hutu and Tutsi has deep roots. ``There weren't many Tutsi in our village, and those who were there didn't want contact [with Hutus],'' Emanuel says. ``The Tutsi had more money.''
The Tutsi ``told the Hutu to remain farmers; they want to remain in power,'' explains Emanuel's sister.