Two years on-Rwanda ramps up response for Burundi refugee children and families

Tuesday 18 July 2017

By Annet Birungi

"I decided to flee Burundi suddenly for safety.  In my neighborhood people were killed and houses burned down. I took nothing with me; no clothes, no food,” says Sandrine, a mother of three children. “I didn’t know the way to Rwanda, but I followed others. I was frightened,” says Sandrine one of the Burundian refugees living at Mahama camp of Kirehe district, in the Eastern province of Rwanda. 

Sandrine feeding Plumpy'sup to  Vanessa at SCI-supported health facility.

For two years, over 43,000 refugees of which more than 24,000 are children have been reached by Save the Children Rwanda in Mahama refugee camp. In a makeshift structure made of tarpaulins at the hillside camp, a community desk was erected to serve Burundi refugees by identifying people with special needs, receiving complaints and providing referral services under our community services intervention.

One of the new arrivals was Sandrine with her 3 children, the youngest of whom was nine month old Vanessa.  Sandrine fled her home in Burundi just after midnight on 7th May 2015. With Vanessa tied on her back, Sandrine and her two other children, aged 8 and 5, trekked through a dense forest and across hilly terrain from dusk to dawn. Hungry and tired, they finally arrived the following afternoon to one of the refugee reception Centre’s set up in Rwanda to receive Burundian refugees who had fled their own country fearing politically motivated violence.

Sandrine took Vanessa to Save the Children community service desk where she was identified as suffering from severe acute malnutrition and anaemia. “When we arrived at the reception centre, Vanessa was crying all the time, and I found it difficult to breastfeed,” said Sandrine. “I don’t think I had much milk. She was sickly; we were all hungry.” The baby was emaciated and hairline was tinged orange. She weighed just 5.5.kgs; a tell-tale signal of malnutrition. Sandrine thought she would die. The lifeline came, when Sandrine was referred to Kirehe Hospital for treatment. Now Vanessa is a healthy toddler and no longer receives Plumpy'sup, she weighs 18 Kgs.

A boy with a broken leg is taken to hospital by Save the Children nurse

According to Edwin Kuria, Director of Operations in Save the Children, Rwanda, "Nearly 80% of the refugees coming to Rwanda from Burundi are women and children, and they are often arrive with clothes on their backs, exhausted and overwhelmed," says Edwin. “We are concerned about the increasing number of refugees, meaning that we have to increase our response in all sectors. We are confident that what we and our partners are doing, under the overall coordination of MIDIMAR and UNHCR is sufficient, we must keep up the momentum to bring every last child in the camp back to better health."

In additional to community services, Save the Children expanded its response and responsible for all the child protection work in the camp, a home of nearly 54,000 refugees. We are also working on health and nutrition, livelihoods and education for out of school children and youth.

Read the full report here