10,000 flee Burundi in run-up to elections, borders close

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Burundian refugees, mostly women and children, wait on the shore of Lake Tanganyika to be transferred by boat to Kigoma and then on to Nyaragusu refugee camp. Photo: UNHCR/B. Loyseau

The start of elections in Burundi has seen 10,000 people leave the country in a matter of days, the UN said on Tuesday.

The spike in registrations in neighbouring countries happened before Burundi closed its borders on Sunday evening, according to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The agency said that according to the Burundian authorities the border would remain closed for 48 hours.

This was also described by authorities as "usual practice” during elections.

An estimated 144,000 people have now left the country since pre-election violence began in April.

Stephanie Coutrix has more.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) the exodus began in the middle of last week and spiked on Saturday and Sunday – just before Burundi closed its borders.

Those who made it out of Burundi say they encountered roadblocks and saw people forced off buses to stop them leaving the country.

UNHCR says that those who wish to leave now have to use informal crossings through the forest or the bush.

Spokesperson Melissa Fleming said people were scared and worried that the country was – as she put it – "going to break down" now that elections have begun.

"People are fleeing because they are in fear of their lives, that is very clear. People are afraid of a repeat of the past; Burundi suffered a terrible civil war. They are very concerned that the country is going to break down, they are worried for their lives. There are individual stories where people feel they are being targeted and that they are not able to express their opinions on which government to choose."

In a new trend, the UN agency says men have been joining women and children leaving the country, as they expect the violence to continue.

Refugees have reportedly arrived in Rwanda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Zambia.

Elections in Burundi began with the parliamentary poll on Monday; they're due to end with presidential elections on 15 July.

Stephanie Coutrix, United Nations.

Duration: 1’34″

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