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Burundi: fighting forces thousands of people to take to the roads

27-05-2008 Feature

Since fighting resumed in mid-April, people have been leaving many hillside areas and going back again as the fighting eases. The ICRC and the Burundi Red Cross are helping displaced persons and victims to survive in that setting.


ICRC and BRC: meeting the most urgent needs 
The ICRC teams have set up several wells and water collection points to ensure that there is enough water for the displaced persons and the people taking them in. In addition, the ICRC medical team has taken charge of around 30 wounded civilians, most of whom have been evacuated from the combat areas and transferred to a hospital in Bujumbura. Meanwhile, the BRC is burying the dead and disinfecting the area.
  Dozens of children who were separated from their parents during their escape have also been registered. Their names and photos have been displayed at assembly points for displaced persons. Many parents who are trying to find their children have also made contact with the ICRC and the BRC. ICRC delegate Paolo Spoto was pleased to report, "To date, most families have thus been reunited, often spontaneously."
© ICRC / Claire Kaplun 
Evelyne and her five children set out along the dirt roads to flee the fighting. 

Ev elyne is carrying her little girl on her back. Bundled up in an orange-coloured cloth, the nine-month-old baby looks on, undisturbed by the comings and goings on the main square in Muyira, where things are busier than usual. On the hills surrounding the capital of Burundi, around 20 volunteers from the Burundi Red Cross (BRC) and ICRC staff are unloading bales of blankets, jerrycans and boxes of soap from a lorry.

Nearly 4,000 families have already benefited from the emergency assistance provided by the ICRC and the BRC in recent weeks. The distributions are intended primarily for households with young children, elderly people, disabled adults, or children who have been separated from their parents by the fighting.

Muyira is filled with a deafening jumble of noises as women, children and old people wait for the distribution to begin. Some of them are barefoot. Most of them carry brightly coloured umbrellas to shield them from the sun. Despite the midday heat during the dry season, the people calmly wait their turn, listening out for their names to be called before going up to collect what is handed out. Evelyne is there, too. She arrived at dawn from the nearby village in which she has taken refuge.

Four days ago she fled her home in the Sagara hills. Her husband was not at home when the fighting broke out in the surrounding hills. She and her five children set out along the dirt roads that criss-cross the hills in that rural province. She walked on and on, leaving behind the sound of shooting and the fighting between the Burundi army and the National Liberation Front (FNL), an armed opposition movement, which has been going on since mid-April.

Evelyne finally reached Kirombwe, roughly five kilometres from her home. There she met up with a large number of families who, like her, were seeking some respite and safety. " Th e first night, " she related, " we had nothing to eat. We slept outside, on the concrete floor. Then I found something for us to eat at the market. And we took shelter inside a school. "

Like a thousand people on that Friday in May, she walked the three kilometres from Kirombwe to Muyira, for a little aid – two blankets, 800 grams of soap and a 20-litre jerrycan, which will enable her to stock up with water before setting off back home to her village.

Evelyne has decided to return home. This evening she will be back with her husband. She already knows that the doors of her simple house have been smashed in and most of her goods pillaged. However, she and her children will probably find a roof over their heads. Her greatest hope is for peace to return to the hills.