The United Nations says nearly 10,000 people fled Burundi over the weekend before authorities closed the country’s borders ahead of the controversial parliamentary and local elections.
The UN Refugee Agency made the announcement on Tuesday, saying that a total of 144,000 had so far fled for their lives since violence broke out in April.
“The pace this weekend spiked… We saw over the weekend 10,000 more Burundians fleeing the country,” said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the UN agency.
She also said over 6,000 Burundians had arrived in neighboring Tanzania alone during the two-day time period. The remaining 4,000 fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
According to official figures by the UN Refugee Agency, a total of 66,600 Burundian refugees are now in Tanzania, 56,500 in Rwanda, 11,500 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 9,000 in Uganda.
On June 27, the country’s parliament speaker Pie Ntavyohanyuma fled the country to Belgium.
The June 29 elections comes ahead of a controversial presidential vote scheduled to take place on July 17, despite calls by United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to postpone it.
The African country began to witness political turmoil in late April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his decision to run for a third consecutive five-year term.
The Burundian opposition and supporters argue that the 51-year-old ruler’s attempt to extend his 10-year leadership goes both against the 2000 peace accord and the constitution, which says a president can only serve two terms.
Weeks of protests have so far claimed the lives of more than 70 people and injured about 500 others.