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Christians, NGOs Assisting Refugee Survivors; More Aid Needed

Following last week’s tragic massacre in Burundi, the National Council of Churches in Burundi and other NGOs have been providing relief and provisions for the surviving refugees. However, they say mo
( [email protected] ) Aug 21, 2004 03:39 PM EDT

Burundi's government and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have agreed to open two new camps for the 20,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees, after attackers crossed over the border from DR Congo and killed more than 160 in a refugee camp in western Burundi. Meanwhile the National Council of Churches of Burundi is continuing to assist the remaining refugees through the provision of food, non-food relief items and education.

According to the UN's World Food Program, conditions in Gatumba camp are very difficult for the 1,000 survivors.

"After the attack, all the food was burnt. There was a lot of destruction and they're very frightened," Peter Smerdon of the WFP told the BBC's Focus on Africa program.

He said the WFP was providing food for the refugees and a 15-day ration had been given to more than 100 wounded refugees being cared for in hospitals in the capital, Bujumbura.

The Conseil National Des Eglises du Burundi (CNEB, or the National Council of Churches of Burundi), which had been working in the camp of Tutsi Congolese refugees before the attack, reported that the wounded are in different hospitals in the area.

CNEB, a member of Action by Churches Together (ACT) International has been assisting refugees from DRC who are living in the camp through the provision of food, non-food relief items and education.

The morning after the attack, staff of CNEB visited the camp along with representatives of other non-governmental organizations working in the area. CNEB reports that its activities to assist the refugees, carried out with support of ACT members around the world under ACT appeal AFBI41, are affected because the supplies of relief items that CNEB distributed earlier were lost when shelters belonging to the refugees were burned in the attacks.

CNEB was not able to help other refugees affected by the attacks because it had exhausted its supplies purchased with Rapid Response Funds from ACT, which were sent in late June to allow CNEB to offer additional assistance to a new wave of refugees from DRC.

"We noticed that all the food they had was burnt, [as well as] clothes, shelter, and all utensils," a spokesperson for NCCB said. Other NGOs, however, were able to supply some food.

The United Nations has asked that the camp, near the border between Burundi and DRC, be moved, which CNEB expects would affect its work there. CNEB also believes that last week's attack will handicap the peace process in Burundi and DRC.

According to CNEB, the Banyamulenge refugees rioted in town and broke cars, attacked the DRC embassy and were dispersed by the police Wednesday morning. After that, they went around the town throwing stones at cars. Meanwhile, a special meeting was being held in Dar es Salaam on the issue of elections, which may take place before the beginning of November 2004.

Currently, the ACT appeal for CNEB, AFBI41, which was issued in February 2004, is still open. Only 32 percent of the requested funds have been received, and the ACT Coordinating Office is encouraging members to continue sending funds for this appeal.

CNEB reports that residents of the camp are in need of replacement clothes and other non-food items. CNEB has also learned that the wounded refugees in hospitals need food.