Letter: Refugee exodus at crisis point

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The Independent Online
Sir: The destruction of democracy in Burundi and the outpouring of traumatised refugees fleeing army massacres there ('Refugee deaths', 29 December) is threatening to become a tragedy that the rich world chooses to ignore. As Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has said, the outflow of refugees into the neighbouring countries of Rwanda, Tanzania and Zaire is the largest and fastest refugee exodus since the Gulf crisis of 1991.

It is the differences between the two crises that give organisations such as Oxfam most cause for concern. The refugees from Iraq were going into countries such as Jordan, which had relatively well-developed infrastructures. In contrast, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zaire are materially poor, and the populations of the latter two are themselves suffering the effects of internal conflict. They deserve far more attention and assistance from the world community than they have received so far. The British government has made pounds 250,000 available to Oxfam for work in Tanzania, a country that has historical links with Britain, but this works out at only pounds 1 per refugee there; much more needs to be done to help the situation of refugees in Rwanda or in Zaire.

It is welcome news that the Overseas Development Minister, Baroness Chalker, is to visit Tanzania from 4 January. The Tanzanian government is doing its best and the local population has been as generous as it can be to the 250,000 refugees, but the Tanzanians need more assistance. In Rwanda, a drought in the south means that the World Food Programme is now being asked to help feed 900,000 Rwandese, as well as about 380,000 Burundi refugees.

It is imperative that donor governments provide the means to prevent suffering and death on an even greater scale.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN WHITAKER

Deputy Director, Oxfam

Oxford

30 December

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