Burundi’s Catch-22: Retribution at Home and Disease over the Border

Protester stands by a burning barricade in the Musaga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday May 21, 2015. Protests continue against the President's decision to seek a third term. ( AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Protester stands by a burning barricade in the Musaga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday May 21, 2015. Protests continue against the  President's decision to seek a third term.  ( AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Protester stands by a burning barricade in the Musaga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday May 21, 2015. Protests continue against the President’s decision to seek a third term. ( AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Aislinn Laing, THE TELEGRAPH

 
KAGUNGA, Burundi (The Telegraph) — When Jean-Pierre heard rumours in his village about an offensive against those who did not support Burundi’s president, he did not need to be told twice to leave.

An orphan whose parents were murdered during the country’s long civil war, he knew only too well that when punishment came it would be swift and harsh.

The 24-year-old, whose full name The Telegraph has withheld for his safety, did not have far to travel to reach the Kagunga beach, just over the border with Tanzania, where he spent several days sleeping rough with tens of thousands of other refugees, waiting for a boat to take him south to a more established camp.

But the conditions were so terrible at Kagunga – where on Friday, the UN confirmed a serious outbreak of cholera – that he decided to return to Burundi instead.

“People have nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep, no food, no way to cook and no clothes to wear,” he said, eyeing the rope and dusty patch of no-man’s land that constitutes the frontier between the two countries, the soldiers who guard it lazily fingering their rifles in the shade of an avocado tree.

“You have to go with nothing or the soldiers know you are a refugee and they don’t let you go. I have come back for now but I’m ready to run again any time, even the middle of the night.”

Three weeks ago, Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza sidestepped the constitution to run for a third term in office, prompting protests, an abortive military coup and an uptick in harassment of those thought to oppose the bid. Jean-Pierre and his seven siblings are among many who are torn between risking political violence at home or destitution and disease over the borders.

 

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