Just over a year ago, he was a civil servant living in a comfortable house in Burundi with his wife and five children. Today Emmanuel Karikurubu lives as a refugee in a dusty side street in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. He is fluent in English, an intelligent and well-educated man, but he's jobless. When asked about his hopes for the futures, he simply says: “I take one day at a time”. Just being alive is enough.

Karikurubu fled his home in Burundi last year after the country spiralled into violence. With government militia forces chanting in the streets about raping the daughters and wives of enemies, he feared for the safety of his four daughters. If anything happened to his daughters he would kill the men who hurt them, he said.

Karikurubu is one of more than a quarter of a million refugees who have left Burundi after president Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for an unconstitutional third term in office triggered protests and demonstrations, which led to a security crackdown and the ruling party unleashing its feared militia youth wing - the Imbonerakure. More than 450 people have been killed, according to estimates.

Last week the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of a “very real prospect of an escalation in ethnic violence” in Burundi, which has an ethnic Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. The Hutus are in government and many of their supporters see Tutsis like Karikurubu as targets.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein raised concerns over cases of arbitrary arrests, detention and torture and ex-officers of the defunct armed forces being killed because of their Tutsi ethnicity. He also highlighted school children being arrested for scribbling on pictures of the president in textbooks and reports of speeches by the Imbonerakure inciting violence against political opponents, with “strong ethnic overtones”.

Burundi’s government has rejected his accusations, but the crisis has chilling echoes of the run up to Rwanda genocide in 1994, in which extremist Hutus massacred around 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus.

Many who fled from Burundi are in refugee camps in neighbouring countries – there are more than 48,000 in the Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda alone - but others arranged their own temporary accommodation believing the unrest would end after a few months and they would be able to go home.

One year on, these urban refugees who rely on small savings or the support of family and friends, are facing an increasingly desperate struggle to get by. It is, however, better than the horrors they left behind.

Karikurubu, 53, whose wife is Rwandan, left Burundi last June with his family fearing for the safety of hisfour daughters who range in age from five to 19-years-old.

“Where I was living the groups supporting the ruling party were very active and there was much violence against women happening,” he says.

“The militia were singing songs which had the words: ‘We will rape your daughters and your wife. They will be impregnated and produce the sons and daughters of Imbonerakure’.”

“I had to escort my daughters when they went to school or their jobs in the centre of town.”

Karikurubu says the day before he left Burundi, he was told of a case involving a 16-year-old girl who was kidnapped by the government intelligence services, then tied to a bed and raped for a week.

Despite her father being a colonel in the army no-one would help, he says, because the colonel was a Tutsi – and her captors were Hutus from the ruling party.

Another classmate of one of his daughters was kidnapped and raped by the intelligence police, he said, with sexual violence being used as a “political weapon” to show the power of the ruling party.

“That is one of the main reasons I left Burundi, because my daughters are at such risk,” he says.

“I am not sure I could stay calm in that situation. I fear I would myself become a killer.”

For Karikurubu, the situation has alarming echoes of genocides of the past – both in Burundi and Rwanda - with ethnic differences being used by the government as a tool to spread divisions.

After the 1993 genocide in Burundi, some Tutsi survivors were placed in a protected camp for internally displaced people, where they remain till this day. There are reports of militia forces now training around the camp and taunting the survivors saying “now we will finish you, it is time to finish you off.”

Karikurubu says like the Rwanda genocide of 1994, the international community is ignoring what is happening.

“It is the same situation that was in Rwanda in 1994,” he says. “Everyone knows, they see, but nothing is done, because it is not in the interests of big people to help Burundi.”

He says his children are now trying to settle down in Rwanda, but trying to adapt to a new home has been difficult.

“The week after we arrived here, there was a public demonstration and my youngest daughter saw the police,” he says. “She came running inside the house and dived under the table – she thinks police are killers, the militia especially did many bad things in front of children.

“Here there is no fear of such incidents and that is very important to people from our country. But it is very hard for me and my family to start a new life. You cannot make plans, so we are living just day by day.”

Jean Paul, who does not want his real named to be used, was a prominent member of an opposition party in Burundi. He initially sent his wife and three-year-old daughter to safety in Rwanda, but says “as a man, I didn’t see how I could close my door and leave my home.”

However after being captured and tortured by the intelligence service, he managed to flee over the border to Rwanda last June.

“Even at the border I met the Imbonerakure, they followed me,” he explains. “But I ran and ran and I succeeded in crossing the border.

“The policemen of Rwanda welcomed me. On the other side the Imbonerakure were saying to me ‘if you try to come back, we will kill you.”

Jean Paul, 37, who studied English literature at university and worked for a children’s charity in Burundi, has been unable to find work in Kigali. The family live in a tiny ramshackle house, which is accessed by a steep dirt path behind a carpentry workshop. His wife works nightshift in a restaurant to support them. He says “staying at home, waiting for food” is difficult when he has been used to working.

“I had to leave everything behind in the house,” he says. “I have to start from the beginning again.”

Jean Paul says they have been welcomed in Rwanda and feel safe – but still fears the Imbonerakure. He tells of a recent story of a former politician from Burundi who had fled to Rwanda, but was then poisoned by members of the militia who tracked him down.

“That is a danger you can believe,” he says. “Here we sleep and we have security – but we know they still want to kill you.”

He adds: “My life here is not a good life. I can tell you I am in desperation. I used to be someone who was creative. One year is over and I still don’t have something to do – it is not good.”

Maria, who wanted to remain anonymous, is also struggling to adapt to her new life in Kigali, where she has been living since May last year. She sits in a sparse room, with a small pile of toys in the corner for her three children – twin girls aged five and another girl who is nearly two. She is wearing a beautiful tartan dress and tells how she used to work in a bank. Now, she points out wryly, she has to sit on the floor when visitors are present as there are not enough chairs.

She explains how she fled her home in Burundi with just a bag of clothes after becoming increasingly fearful at the deteriorating situation. Her husband is still living and working in Burundi to support them and can only risk visiting occasionally – he may be arrested and killed if it is discovered he is travelling across to Rwanda.

“He uses one route, but the next time he has to use another route,” she says. “When they know he is always crossing to Rwanda then he can be killed.

“If he can’t come then he tries to send some money for us to survive. He stayed there because we had no choice in order to survive.”

It has been over a month since she last saw him. Maria breaks down in tears when asked how difficult being separated from her husband is “I don’t know what I can say,” she says. “It is very hard.

“It is not easy to live without my husband, when he is here you feel protected, there are so many times you really need emotional support, you need help providing care to the children.

“At times they come to me and say 'can you give me this mummy' – but you cannot give them it. The life they were used to is totally different.”

Maria says she feels far safer in Rwanda and does get support from fellow Burundian refugees. But when asked about her hopes for the future, she struggles to remain positive.

“I can only trust to God – only God knows,” she says. “I came here expecting to stay for just a short time, but now I have been here more than one year.”

The charity Tearfund is working to provide trauma counselling to Burundian refugees in Rwanda and connecting refugee families with others in communities.

They also have a partner agency working in the Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda, with staff supporting new arrivals through providing meals and cooking materials and essential items such as mattresses, blankets, buckets, jerry cans and sanitation products.

Despite the dangers, Tearfund is also still working with partner agencies in Burundi itself to tackle the problem of both children and new and expectant mother experiencing severe malnutrition.

Emmanuel Murangira, Tearfund's country representative for Burundi and Rwanda, said: “The current situation in Burundi has seen over a quarter of a million people displaced from their homes over the past year, and many more living in fear and uncertainty of what the future holds.

“At Tearfund we are responding to those who are in greatest need as a result of the ongoing crisis - providing hot meals and bare essentials to many who have travelled for days and are far from home, tired and hungry.

“We are also working particularly closely with the most vulnerable people in the refugee camps such as young children, pregnant mothers and the elderly, to ensure they have the sustenance they need to get through each day.”

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