Burundi is a country in East-Central Africa with a population of about 12.2 million. Trying to escape violence in their home country, thousands of Burundians have fled and become refugees. These people seek shelter in several different countries, and as of October 2020, there are more than 150,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, according to Human Rights Watch. The Burundi refugee crisis comes with heartbreaking tragedies. Sadly, Burundian refugees face many obstacles for protection and are often forced to return to Burundi against their will.
Here are five facts about the Burundi refugee crisis.
- The Burundi refugee crisis began in 2015. After serving two terms, Burundi’s former president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was expected to step down. When Nkrurnziza refused to do so, civilian protests began and lasted for months. The military responded with violence and targeted civilian killings. Unrest and state-sanctioned human rights violations caused hundreds of thousands of Burundi citizens to seek refuge in surrounding areas. The conflict has killed more than 1,700 people since 2015.
- The U.N. Refugee Agency reports that the conflict resulted in more than 333,700 Burundi refugees seeking safety and shelter in other countries. Many of the camps are unable to provide adequate shelter, health services or education. Moreover, many Burundi refugees feel as if the population has nowhere to go.
- Tanzania, a country that took in a significant portion of Burundi’s refugees, is no longer a place of refuge. Since 2019, Tanzanian authorities have abused Burundian refugees. They have also forced many refugees to return to Burundi. More than 150,000 Burundians reside in Tanzania, and the Burundians are at risk of suffering the same violations that the population fled from.
- Some Burundians feel safe returning to the country following the death of Nkurunziza. Rwanda, in particular, working with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, has a program for the repatriation of Burundian refugees. Nearly 1,500 refugees have registered for the program. While many Burundians are excited to return home, a significant portion does not feel safe returning. The political stability of Burundi is still uncertain, especially with Nkurunziza’s passing being so recent.
- Often referred to as the “forgotten” refugee crisis, the Burundi refugee crisis is the lowest funded global situation. In 2020, the cause received only 40% of the funds required to offer protection to the refugees. Even as Burundians are beginning to return home, there is still a significant population of vulnerable Burundi refugees who need assistance.
The 2021 Burundi Refugee Response Plan will ensure that Burundi refugees will be safe wherever they choose to reside. The plan advocates for more education and vocational training and incorporates Burundi refugees into local livelihood activities. It also ensures that basic needs, including health services, food and shelter are met in refugee camps.
– Samantha Silveira