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UN agency: Burundi violence driving thousands to flee

[JURIST] A United Nations body responsible for protecting displaced people on Friday warned [press release] that many of the promising developments made in recent refugee history in Africa are at risk of being undone as over 50,000 people have fled Burundi in response to the start of the pre-election violence that began last month. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) [official website] has appealed to Burundi to ensure that the borders remain open and that people be allowed to move freely, as many trying to flee face difficulties ranging from threats of rape to roadblocks. Protests in the country's capital, Bujumbura, which resumed since Monday, have been accompanied by reports of daily violence in the city. "With the Government of Rwanda," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said, "we are now moving the refugees to a new refugee camp, Mahama, which can host up to 60,000 refugees." These efforts come as UNHCR has noted more and more people arriving from urban areas, including high school and university students, in addition to the many arrivals from the Ngozi and Muyinga provinces of northern Burundi.

Political unrest in Burundi has divided the country and many citizens have fled the country, following Nkurunziza's declaration that he intends to seek a third term in office. Burundi has also been criticized for human rights violations and limitations on freedom in the last few years. Earlier this week Burundi authorities arrested [JURIST report] political opposition leader Audifax Ndabitoreye shortly after he met with East African Community ministers in the capital city of Bujumbura. Also this week the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concern [JURIST report] over actions by Burundi authorities ahead of its upcoming presidential elections in June. In April the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights referred to the upcoming elections in Burundi as a critical moment in the nation's history [JURIST report], with an opportunity to choose free and fair elections to "strengthen and mature Burundi's still fragile democracy, and enable an improvement in its dire socio-economic situation." Also in April, the OHCHR expressed concern over the limits placed on freedom of expression [JURIST report] in Burundi following the arrest of Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Public Africaine (RPA).

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