By Mary Rowlatt

Xavier Project is proud to be supporting World Refugee Day on 20th June and to raise awareness on the issues which are most relevant to the lives of refugees. Refugees are ordinary people forced to leave their homes and live in new and unfamiliar countries or regions. Across East Africa and the Horn of Africa there are ongoing conflicts forcing people to flee their homes every day.

Over 100,000 people have now been forced to leave their homes in Burundi due to the political crisis that began in April this year. At least 70,000 of this number have sought safety in Tanzania, with the majority of the remainder in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Burundi has faced significant insecurity since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would seek a third term in office, a move which many claim is unconstitutional and violates the peace deal that ended Burundi’s 12 year civil war in 2005. The announcement prompted a string of violent protests in the capital of Bujumbura where at least 20 people have lost their lives, although there are some reports that this number may be higher. Senior military leaders opposing the president attempted to carry out a coup on 13th May but this was foiled by pro-government forces. An opposition leader has since been shot dead causing many other politicians to go into hiding.

A number of independent radio stations have been shut down since Nkurunziza’s announcement, resulting in an absence of any information for most living outside of the capital where the radio is often their only source of information. There have also been reports that the Imbonerakure (the youth wing of the country’s ruling party) have been harassing anyone believed to oppose the government and demanding that male youths join their forces. Burundian refugees arriving in neighbouring countries have also reported that the Imbonerakure are attacking people as they try to reach the country’s borders, causing some to be thwarted in their attempt and devastatingly, many families to be separated.

Extensive fighting in South Sudan has now forced over 2 million people to flee their homes and thousands of civilians to lose their lives since December 2013. There are an estimated 1.5 million people internally displaced and around 560,000 have escaped to neighboring Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and a smaller number to Kenya.

The conflict in South Sudan was prompted by the President accusing his opposition, his former deputy Reik Machar, of planning a coup in December 2013. Continuous fighting across ethnic lines has followed including three periods of heightened conflict, the most recent of which was during March 2015. The international community has spoken out against the conflict as unnecessary and avoidable, but recent peace talks held in Ethiopia have been unfruitful.

A growing concern for South Sudan is that there will be a shortage of food in the coming months and that aid will not be able to reach those that need it most. In addition, this will likely cause further movement of popula­tion within the country. Fighting has prevented farmers from planting their crops, resulting in decreased food production. When combined with only 200 miles of paved road and expected floods in the coming months, there are fears of a huge food crisis and risk of famine.

70% of the 590,000 refugees living in Kenya originate from Somalia, most of these living within Dadaab refugee camp and the Eastleigh area of Nai­robi. The Kenyan government is supporting the voluntary repa­triation of Somali refugees and according to the UN just over 2,000 Somali refugees have returned since December 2014. However the situation in So­malia remains unstable across much of the country, which has suffered through a gruelling civil war spanning three decades. The Somali based terrorist group Al-Shabaab continue to launch attacks across Somalia and remain an imminent threat to neighbouring countries, including Kenya following the horrific at­tack on Garissa University earlier this year.

Kenya and Uganda are both home to a significant number of refugees and these numbers are growing every day. Xavier Project and Ta­muka are committed to helping them in the daily challenges that they face. To follow the celebrations of World Refugee Day 2015 includ­ing events that Xavier Project are supporting, please search for Xavier Project or the hashtag #WorldRefugeeDay on Facebook or Twitter.

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