The United Nations said Tuesday that nearly 10,000 Burundians fled the country over the weekend before Burundi closed its borders ahead of controversial and violence-wracked elections in the troubled central African nation, according to Daily Monitor.
At least 144,000 people have fled Burundi since the country's political turmoil began in April, with the numbers surging towards the end of last week, the UN refugee agency said. "The pace this weekend spiked... We saw over the weekend 10,000 more Burundians fleeing the country," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.
More than 6,000 had arrived in neighbouring Tanzania alone over the two-day period, bringing the total there to around 66,600. Another 56,500 are in Rwanda, 11,500 in Democratic Republic of Congo and more than 9,000 in Uganda, UNHCR said.
Burundian officials closed the borders late Sunday ahead of Monday's controversial parliamentary polls -- something they claim is common practice during elections -- and plan to reopen them late Tuesday.
"Over the last 48 hours, refugees and people trying to flee have been resorting to trying to cross informal border crossings through the forest to leave the country," Fleming said. People arriving in neighbouring countries have told aid workers that roads are being blocked and that people suspected of heading to the border are being forced off buses, she said.
"Many said they had to walk for hours through the bush without luggage so as not to attract the attention of the militia and the police," she said. "We are concerned that people who want to flee to seek asylum, who fear their lives are in danger ... are not able to leave the country," she added.
Burundi has been in crisis since late April over President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial bid to stand for a third consecutive five-year term, a move branded by opponents as unconstitutional and a violation of a peace deal that ended 13 years of civil war in 2006.
The opposition boycotted Monday's parliamentary elections, which precede the planned presidential vote on July 15.