Burundian refugees in a DR Congo camp near the border with their troubled country live in constant fear of the raging violence they recently fled for it is still too close for safety.
“Even here, we are afraid of the Imbonerakure, the young armed men of the regime,” says Elias Ngahobahe, a father of six who has come to the Lusenda camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We really want to move away from the border.”
Some 14,000 people live at the Lusenda refugee camp, located about 70 kilometres (43 miles) from the border with Burundi..
Violent protests erupted in Burundi in April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his ultimately successful bid for a disputed third term in office. More than 400 people have died in the fighting, and around 230,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.
In an effort to end the conflict, UN Security Council ambassadors and African Union leaders met Saturday for crisis talks in Addis Ababa, after the Burundian government refused a proposed AU force to intervene and help restore stability.
Sauda Nibiza, 20, says she is afraid that the refugee camp is too near the border, explaining that some people “had seen men of the Burundian security service on the national road. That scared us.”
Visitors to the 300-hectare (740-acre) camp are greeted by the sound of Burundian drummers, which keep the cultural tradition of their homeland alive in a place where hunger is ever-present and fear seeps into daily life.
Amid palm trees and cornfields, visibly weak children sit by huts made of tarps offered by the UN refugee agency.
The president of the camp Faustin Nihibizi deplores conditions there such as “the quality and quantity of the food, the schooling” and rumours that it is being infiltrated by militias.
Fatuma Narukundo, 26, lives in the camp with her husband and four children. She says she opposed Nkurunziza’s running for a third term, and eventually fled the country with her family.
“My husband left first for Lubumbashi (in the southeast)… Congolese authorities told us there was one camp to receive Burundian refugees: Lusenda.”
Narukundo says that some of the camp’s refugees recently protested the food rations, and tensions flared with camp authorities.
Berthe Zinga, who coordinates DR Congo’s National Commission for Refugees, said the country does not plan to open another camp for displaced Burundians, and that the Lusenda camp is below its capacity of 20,000.
About “60 to 70 percent” of Burundian refugees are in the Lusenda camp, says Narukundo, the rest living with host families.
But the influx of refugees is likely to continue amid Burundi’s spiraling violence.
The UN human rights chief voiced alarm on Friday over allegations of security forces gang raping women, ethnic killings and mass graves filled with more than 100 bodies.
“All the alarm signals, including the increasing ethnic dimension of the crisis, are flashing red,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned in a statement.
Zeid said that “deeply worrying new trends are emerging in Burundi, including cases of sexual violence by security forces and a sharp increase in enforced disappearances and torture cases.”