“Abandoning my home country and especially my family has left its mark on me”
Since 2002, Burundi has generously hosted refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and currently some 84,469 Congolese refugees reside in Burundi. Most of them have fled insecurity caused by clashes between non-state armed groups (known among the Congolese as the ‘Mai Mai’) in the North and South Kivu provinces. Of these, 36,528 are urban refugees, with the majority of them living in Bujumbura Mairie, particularly in the popular communes of Kamenge, Kinama and Buterere. The rest (57 per cent) are spread between five refugee camps in the north and eastern parts of the country.
In his thirties, married and a father of two children, Bernard* is one of them. In 2013, he fled from the DRC to Burundi to seek asylum.
Persecution and intimidation
In 2006, the Mai Mai began to force the Congolese youth to join their ranks to "fight rebels”. However, Bernard and many other young people opposed this idea. In 2010, Bernard and a group of activists began raising community awareness to encourage young people to continue their studies instead of joining armed groups. As a result, they were pursued by members of the Mai Mai.
Six years later, Bernard recalls his ordeal: "abandoning my home country and especially my family has left its mark on me". He fled his home and evaded the soldiers by taking refuge with his older sister for three months. However, eventually, he was caught and imprisoned twice. Bernard finally made the decision to escape the country to Burundi where a family friend hosted him. "He saved me", he explains.
Life in Burundi
After two months, his rescuer advised him to register with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and apply for asylum. "Today, I work as a teacher without much difficulty. Of course, a refugee's life is never easy, but you gradually adapt."
Today, Congolese refugees and asylum seekers continue to reside in Burundi, with the support of the Government of Burundi, through its National Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons and the UNHCR. Together with the help of various humanitarian actors, the necessary protection and assistance services are provided to refugees that are essential to safeguard their rights and well-being.
However, under-funding and rising living costs continue to have a significant impact on refugees' and asylum seekers' access to quality basic services and their level of vulnerability. In 2020, an estimated $23,4 million will be needed to assist the refugee population in Burundi.
* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.