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Burundi Refugees
Burundi is a country in East Africa that shares borders with Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. The country’s civil war has left Burundian refugees in a state of emergency.

The tumultuous civil war, which occured from 1993 to 2006, culminated in the parliamentary election of Hutu rebel leader Pierra Nkurunziza. Events similar to those that triggered the war, which claimed 300,000 lives, have once again come into focus.

Although Burundi’s constitution limits presidential incumbency to two terms, President Nkurunziza expressed desire to seek a third term, aggravating opposition groups severely.

A 2015 coup exacerbated the issue further. The power struggle between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnicities contributed to the discord. Although Nkurinziza received 79 percent of the vote, the crisis led to bloodshed and mass emigration, which has crippled Burundi and left many impoverished.

The following 10 facts about Burundi refugees describe their plight:

  1. As highlighted by the 2008 U.N. Human Development Index, Burundi ranks 167 out of 177 countries, with a concurrent rural poverty rate of 68.9 percent.
  2. More than 250,000 Burundian refugees have fled to neighboring countries. Moreover, Tanzania alone is collectively home to 144,000 Burundian refugees.
  3. The Nyarugusu and Nduta refugee camps in Tanzania have reached maximum carrying capacity, and the Mtendelli refugee camp now has to house the surfeit.
  4. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has played a pivotal role in combating the spread of malaria among Burundian refugees and addressing mental health problems. One in two MSF patients in the Tanzanian refugee camps have malaria.
  5. Attackers from Burundi’s ruling party have gang raped and ostracized women, especially female family members of assumed opposition groups. The problem has been widespread in refugee camps.
  6. According to UNHCR, an estimated $134 million is needed to effectively respond to Burundi‘s plight and safeguard the needs of Burundian refugees. However, only $46 million has been raised by donors.
  7. The Brethren Disaster Ministries have provided grants to help the Brethren Church of Rwanda carefully maneuver and support the influx of Burundian refugees into Rwanda. The grants will provide emergency food and supplies to hundreds of families.
  8. The U.N. Security Council has agreed to deploy 228 police forces to monitor and ease the situation in Burundi‘s capital, Bujumbura. Despite this decisive move, the U.N. still needs to seek approval from the Burundian government and cope with the protests that have emerged as a result of the decision.
  9. Many Burundian refugees want an outlet for their products and a way to market their goods. Handcraft cooperatives at Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda have benefited from UNHCR guidance and aid. Most of these cooperatives are spearheaded by women, who now have the opportunity to express their culture and sell their products.
  10. The UNHCR has made great headway with regards to promoting education in refugee camps. A major plan is in the works to set up a university in Mahama camp.

These 10 facts showcase the plight of Burundian refugees. The balance of power between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnicities in military and government institutions is fragile. Keeping it in check is the objective of the international community and Arusha Accords.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

rwandan genocide
Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, personal stories of heroism are still coming to light. One such story is that of Zula Karuhimbi, who saved more than 100 hunted Tutsis through acts of “sorcery.”

She kept these Tutsi fugitives safe and hidden during the three-month genocide in 1994, concealing them in her house beneath dry leaves and beanstalks, as well as in a foliage-covered pit she dug on her property.

When machete-wielding Hutu militiamen arrived and ordered her to open her doors, Karuhimbi decided to challenge them. She had grown up in a family of traditional healers, and many suspected her of being a witch. Karuhimbi used her skills and reputation to her advantage. She threatened to use sorcery against the Hutus if they approached. She also covered her hands in herbs that cause skin irritation and touched the Hutus, who believed a powerful spirit was cursing them.

When the militia attempted to burn her house down and shoot through the walls, Karuhimbi retreated inside. But then she shook various items and instructed the hidden Tutsis to scream and wail. She again scared the Hutus away by convincing them that the noises came from angry spirits. Such Hutu attacks occurred many times throughout the genocide, forcing Karuhimbi to remain vigilant and determined.

As a practicing Muslim, Karuhimbi maintains that she never believed in magic. But she felt it was her duty to defy the Hutu militia any way she could. Yet this brave woman’s actions resulted in the loss of her two children, both killed by Hutus.

Karuhimbi says she was inspired by her mother, who always helped those in need. When violence erupted based around The Hutu Manifesto in 1959, Karuhimbi and her mother saved the life of current Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Kagame went on to lead the Rwandan Patriotic Front, whose victory ended the 1994 genocide.

Karuhimbi says she acted selflessly because she believes that all humans are connected. “We are one. Our forefathers and foremothers are one for all of us. We are siblings to each other,” she said.

Her courage and determination has been acknowledged by both her countrymen and the international community. In 2006, President Kagame honored her with Rwanda’s Campaign Against Genocide Medal. In 2009, she was flown out to Italy to witness a tree being planted in her honor in the Garden of the Righteous.

Yet today, Karuhimbi still lives in the same tiny, dilapidated mud house where she hid the Tutsi refugees. She continues to practice traditional medicine. Her popular products include potions to fix ugliness, unemployment, “head problems” and mosquito bites. Although folk remedies are increasingly viewed as primitive or even Satanic in Rwanda, many members of her community still consider her a kind healer rather than a “witch.” She was never able to acquire a formal education and her livelihood has relied a great deal on small-scale agriculture. In her younger years she sold vegetables in her district. But now, at the age of 89, she is no longer able to farm so she depends on the charity of her neighbors and relatives.

Frail and often forgetful, Karuhimbi still remembers the horrors of the genocide. Yet she has more than persevered through tragedy — she has remained optimistic in her outlook on life and humanity. “Love is the most important thing,” she said. “Find someone to love and the future will always be bright.”

– Mari LeGagnoux 

Sources: Vice, New Times
Photo: Inside

rwandan_genocide_20_years_later_child_opt
It was only twenty years ago that the now infamous “Genocide Fax” was sent, a detailed letter to the United Nations headquarters in New York explaining the brewing events leading up to the mass slaughter that we now know as the Rwandan Genocide.

The letter, sent by the then-Force Commander of the UN peacekeeping mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), General Romeo Dallaire, explained that ethnic Hutu extremists were stockpiling weapons and distributing them to the militias. An informant had also revealed to him that “he has been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali” in preparation “for their extermination.” These harrowing discoveries prompted Dallaire to contact UN headquarters, convinced that it was necessary to act. The final line of the letter read, ‘Peux ce que veux. Allons-y,’ translating to ‘Where there is a will there is a way. Let’s go.’

The UN however, decided against acting. Then-Head of UN Peacekeeping Operations, Kofi Annan, instructed Dallaire to essentially do nothing, as “unanticipated repercussions” could ensue.

The repercussions that Dallaire anticipated did ensue, following the tragic plane attack that killed then-President Habyarimana just three months later.

Then came the horrifying Rwandan genocide that claimed nearly one million lives in less than 100 days.

Twenty years later the nation has far surpassed anyone’s expectations. Due to an onslaught of foreign aid and a revitalized Rwandan pride, the country has built itself back and shows no signs of stopping.

Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, more than one million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty and nearly all children attend school. Investment has nearly tripled since 2005 and economic opportunities abound. Malaria deaths have fallen more than 85 percent, and nine out of every 10 Rwandans claim that they “trust in the leadership of their country.” The transformations that Rwanda has made are far from over, as the country aims to be a middle-income nation by 2020.

These achievements prove just how much can be accomplished in the face of adversity. The Rwandan people have lifted their country out of despair and created a beacon of hope to all of those who still suffer under the dark cloud of genocide.

Not only that, but they have taught us a valuable lesson.

We have a responsibility as human beings to protect each other from such mass atrocities. Unfortunately, the United Nations learned this in a painful way. However, they have now been at the forefront of putting a stop to genocides in countries such as Libya, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Twenty years later we remember all of those who lost their lives in the Rwandan genocide, and we thank them for the valuable lesson that we now must put into practice.

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian, The Huffington Post
Photo: Global Solutions

rwanda_genocide_children_from_rape
The history of disparate rights between the Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi tribes exploded in April of 1994, followed by 100 days of genocide in which the Hutu extremists killed an estimated 500,000-1 million Tutsi people. Rape was encouraged to destabilize the community’s infrastructure and traumatize its people, resulting in the vicious, serial rape of 250,000 to 500,000 women.

Since the reinstatement of Rwanda’s government, all citizens have been allotted equal rights and the long road toward reconciliation has begun. Since the number of accused hugely outweighs the law officers, the Gacaca court system was set up allowing small communities to hold courts and trials where suspects may confess their crimes and promote reconciliation by disclosing the fates of lost community members.

The government’s newly instated laws of racial equality throughout the country extend to social stigmas as well, bolstering the marginalized. But one group was overlooked: children produced by the Rwandan genocide’s relentless rapes.

Chantal Mukeshimana, now 46, lost her husband and three of their children in the genocide during which she was repeatedly gang-raped. One of these attacks implanted her now-19 year old daughter, Angélique, who has always felt distanced by her mother and blames herself for the pain her existence recalls.

Angélique is one of 20,000 young adults who are products of the Rwandan genocide rapes. Kananga from the Unity and Reconciliation Commission has stated, “When we offered support to widows and children we thought we were supporting everyone.” These children of rape are suspended between their parents; they feel shunned by their Tutsi mothers for the horrific means of their conception, and have no means or wish to find their ‘genocidaire’ Hutu fathers.

Chantal is currently responsible for Angélique, two surviving children from her late husband, and her brother who was paralyzed in the genocide. With no government aid she relies on her community of women for support, most of whom have pasts similar to her own. None have had access to rehabilitation therapy, and they’ve banded together in an attempt to plug the holes of their shattered families.

Today, as they enter adulthood, children of the Rwandan genocide rapes are struggling to come to terms with their history. They are a constant reminder to their communities of the violence that killed their loved ones and stole their bodies. Without serious reconciliation many will remain emotionally crippled forever, extending the horror of the genocide beyond the lives of those who experienced it.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources: About, UN
Photo: Flickr

Rwandan Genocide
On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana — an ethnic Hutu — was returning from Tanzania when his plane was shot down over the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Whether his assassination was carried out by the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front or Hutus searching for a reason to wipe out the Tutsi minority remains a mystery. In the 100 days following, over 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered largely at the hands of Hutu extremists.

A History of Ethnic Conflict
For hundreds of years the African country of Rwanda has been composed of three main ethnic groups: the Hutus, who made up a majority of the population; the minority Tutsis; and a very small population of hunter-gathers, the Twa. The Hutus and the Tutsis have had a long history of conflict, beginning with the colonization of Rwanda by European powers. The Germans were the first to colonize the country and believed the minority Tutsi to be superior to the majority Hutu as they were believe to have more “European characteristics” such as lighter skin and taller stature. In 1916, Belgium took control of Rwanda and solidified this divide by issuing identity cards based on ethnicity. For the next 20 years, the Tutsis were privilege to better jobs, better educational opportunities and better all around treatment by the Belgian colonists despite their making up only around 10% of the total population.

By 1959, the Hutus had had enough. Riots ensued and over 20,000 Tutsis were killed while others fled for neighboring Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. When Rwanda was eventually granted independence from Belgium in 1962, the tables were turned and the Hutus gained control. In the decades to come, the Tutsis would be blamed for every ill facing the country.

The Rwandan Genocide
Fast forward to April 6, 1994. Within twenty-four hours of the attack on president Habyarimana’s plane, Hutu extremists had taken over the Rwandan government, blamed the Tutsis for the attack, and begun the killing campaign. Starting in Kigali and quickly spreading to the rest of the country, Hutu extremists began slaughtering Tutsis in droves. Soldiers and police encouraged civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbors, often offering incentives like food or access to the land of those they killed. No Tutsi was safe from those who wanted them dead. Men, women and children were tortured and killed, mostly with machetes due to the expensive nature of bullets. Thousands of women were raped and tortured before being killed. To make matters worse, the Hutu extremists refused to allow the bodies of those they killed to be buried. Instead, they were left to rot where they were killed or thrown into rivers and streams. In all, over 800,000 Rwandans were brutally murdered between April 7 and mid July 1994. Only when the Rwandan Patriotic Front captured Kigali and declared a ceasefire did the killings end.

Rwanda Today
In 2000, Paul Kigame, former Tutsi leader of the RPF, became president and remains in power today. The Kigame government has invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo twice with the intention of destroying the some two million Hutus who have lived in hiding there since 1994. While the genocide has ended, tension between the two groups still runs deep and simmers just below the surface.

In 1979, president Jimmy Carter declared, “Out of our memory … of the Holocaust we must forge an unshakeable oath with all civilized people that never again will the world stand silent, never again will the world … fail to act in time to prevent this terrible crime of genocide.” Yet just 15 years later, the Rwandan genocide unfolded on television screens while some of the most powerful nations on earth stood by and watched. What will it take to create a world where “never again” doesn’t so quickly become “never again unless”?

In the words of the philosopher Hannah Arendt: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

– Erin Ponsonby

Source: BBC, United Human Rights Counsel
Photo: Guardian

Poverty_in_Burundi

The conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda was documented by the movie Hotel Rwanda, starring Don Cheadle. The movie depicts a Rwandan hotel manager who is caught in the middle of a vicious civil war and protect citizens at his hotel. It highlights the atrocities of the conflict and the lack of aid that Rwandans received during the widespread killing.

Many people do not realize that the Hutu-Tutsi conflict was not exclusive to Rwanda. Burundi, Rwanda’s southern neighbor experience the same conflict at the same time, resulting in the deaths of around 300,000 civilians and the exile or displacement of 1.2 million.

The fighting in Burundi crippled its economy, especially agriculture, and left 80% of Burundians living below the poverty line. Burundi now ranks 185th out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index. Most Burundians are small scale farmers trying desperately to recover from the conflict, with high population, drought, illiteracy, and little access to health and education services exacerbating their woes.

However, now that the country is relatively stable, the Burundian government, with support from the U.N. and USAID, has put itself to the task of combating poverty in Burundi. In July 2011 the government launched a “Vision 2025” plan that sets a goal of reducing poverty to 33% by 2025. The government is focusing on four areas to achieve this goal: improving governance and security, promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth, developing human capital, and combating HIV/AIDS.

USAID has been doing its part to combat poverty in Burundi since the conflict. USAID supported policy reforms that have led to the commercialization of coffee in Burundi, bringing significant amounts of money into the country from coffee exports. USAID has also been trying to strengthen Burundi’s agriculture sector by focusing on soil conservation, improved seed varieties, better crop and livestock production, and rehabilitation of precious marshlands.

The horrors portrayed in Hotel Rwanda shocked American audiences everywhere. Poverty in Burundi and Rwanda has to be addressed to promote stability in the countries in order to prevent future conflicts.

 Martin Drake

Source: IFAD, USAID
Source: Wikimedia Commons