Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Burundi

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Burundi, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

BDI figures


Burundi hosted around 32,000 refugees and asylum seekers in 2007, most from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa). The Congolese were from a range of ethnic groups including Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsis), Balilo, Bashi, Bafulero, and Babembe, some having arrived during the civil wars of 1996, 1998, and 2004. Others fled tensions in eastern Congo-Kinshasa in 2007, as various groups including the Congolese army, Mai-Mai, and Rwandan Interhamwe militias carried out raids in North and South Kivu Provinces.

Following elections in January and increasing stability throughout Congo-Kinshasa, nearly 400 refugees repatriated. Throughout the year, however, renewed tensions between various militias in eastern Congo drove thousands more Congolese back over the Burundian border. In January 2008, Congo-Kinshasa and rebel groups in the North and South Kivu Provinces signed a peace accord, which provided for the safe return of refugees from neighboring countries including Burundi.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worked with the International Organization for Migration to resettle to the United States some 520 Congolese survivors of the 2004 massacre in Gatumba refugee camp, mostly ethnic Banyamulenge.

At year's end, around 600 Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers remained in Burundi, many of whom fled following the genocide in 1994. About a third of the Rwandans were living in the Giharo camp while the remainder lived in Cibitoke Province or in other urban areas. Thirty-two Rwandans repatriated in July.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Burundian authorities forcibly repatriated over 70 Rwandan asylum seekers after authorities refused to grant them refugee status. Authorities reportedly said the asylum seekers failed to show they were at risk of persecution in Rwanda. Many asylum seekers claimed that the Rwandan Government had called them to testify at the Gacaca genocide tribunals and some claimed that family members who had testified at the Gacaca disappeared afterwards.

In January, Samson Ndayizeye, then regional governor of Cibitoke Province, reportedly threatened to expel Rwandans living in Mabayi whether they were descendants of migrants who arrived in the 1920s or refugees who fled the 1994 genocide or its aftermath. In May, Ndayizeye further promised a Rwandan delegation that he would arrest and deport Rwandan genocidaires who were living in Burundi. Ndayizeye had been compiling a list of Rwandans living in the Cibitoke area, which UNHCR intended to use to assess the Rwandan refugee population in the province to determine who still needed protection, who wished to repatriate, and who were not in fact refugees, but economic migrants. A new governor took office thereafter, and agreed to share the list with UNHCR.

Hundreds of Congolese fleeing warring militia groups in South Kivu Province in Congo-Kinshasa began arriving in Bujumbura in December 2006 and continued throughout 2007, ranging from 75 to 400 arrivals per week. Some of them had to camp for months on a soccer field near the UNHCR offices, without water, food, or sanitation. At least one child died from the unhygienic conditions. After activists complained of the dire conditions, the Interior Ministry moved them to the Kigobe neighborhood where they planned to construct basic sanitation facilities. The local community rejected that plan and the Government transferred some of the refugees to camps while others returned to the soccer field.

Asylum applicants submitted claims at the Government immigration service or the Police Responsible for Airspace Surveillance, Border Control, and Registration of Foreigners (PAFE) to receive Temporary Residence Permits (PSTs). UNHCR required that they obtain PSTs before transferring them to camps. Between January and May, UNHCR transferred the Congolese refugees to Kinama camp in Gasorwe Province, but when it reached capacity, they converted a former reception center for Rwandan asylum seekers in Musasa into a camp. The Government granted refugee status prima facie to Congolese who transferred to camps, but by November, when UNHCR completed registering approximately 7,200 camp refugees, it rejected about 1,700 for fraud or absence from the camp.

The 1989 Entry and Residence Law and its implementing ordinance defined refugees according to "the international conventions on the matter to which Burundi is a party" and prohibited their refoulement. It gave asylum seekers eight days from entry to apply and included a right of appeal and 30 days to leave the country after rejection.

In practice, the Government did not enforce the time constraints and did not record the date of notification, as, rather than informing the refugees about their status in writing, it relied on refugees to inquire on their own at the PAFE office. Refugees were also unlikely to appeal the decision in practice. The Government issued temporary residence permits to asylum seekers, which were valid for three months. In theory, they were supposed to issue onetime residence permits, but in practice, officials renewed the permits when the refugee status determinations took longer than three months.

In 2007, Burundi did not have a separate law on refugees and asylum but had worked with UNHCR since 2005 to develop one. Both the Burundian Senate and the National Assembly passed the Bill on Asylum and the Protection of Refugees, and the Government signed the law into effect in February 2008. The new legislation called for a department within the Interior Ministry called the National Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People (ONPRA) as well as a separate appeals committee.

Burundi was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention), but maintained reservations to the 1951 Convention's rights to work, education, freedom of movement, and residence. The March 2005 Constitution recognized the right of asylum, prohibited unlawful extradition (specifically listing genocide as a legal ground for extradition), and extended to all foreigners its and the law's protection of persons and property.

Detention/Access to Courts

In November, police arrested and later released five young Congolese Tutsi men for not obtaining permission and proper documentation from the Gihinga camp administrator before leaving for a Champions League soccer match in the nearby town of Mwaro.

The 1989 Entry and Residence Law and its implementing ordinance authorized the Interior Ministry to issue identity cards to recognized refugees, but according to UNHCR, the Government only recently began providing refugees from Rwanda and Congo-Kinshasa with proper documentation. The Government issued refugee identity cards to urban refugees who had undergone individual status determination interviews and started issuing them to refugees living in the camps. Rwandan refugees 16 and older living in Giharo received refugee identity cards. In addition, many Congolese refugees housed in Gihinga camp and some in Kinama camp also received cards. Errors made on some cards prevented their distribution. Those in the camps without refugee identification who wished to leave had to request exit tickets from the government-appointed camp administration. These temporary documents, which could be valid for several weeks depending upon the request, included the refugees' name, camp address, reason for leaving the camp, and destination. The camp administrator signed the exit ticket and recorded its issuance into a registry book. UNHCR issued ration cards to refugees in camps, but they were not identity documents and police did not recognize them.

The 2005 Constitution extended to all persons access to courts and protection in criminal procedures.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Nearly 18,900 refugees and asylum seekers lived in four UNHCR-run camps. About 18,700 were Congolese living in Gihinga camp in the central Mwaro region, Kinama camp in Gasorwe, and Musasa in the northern Ngozi Province. Some 200 Rwandans lived in Giharo camp in the southern Rutana region. About 7,500 asylum seekers and 5,300 refugees, primarily Congolese, lived in urban areas.

Due to new Congolese arrivals, at least two UNHCR camps were at capacity by June and UNHCR opened Musasa, a third refugee camp, but had to suspend transfers to the camp until after it completed its planned expansion in early September. Between June and December, UNHCR transferred about 8,600 Congolese to Musasa camp. It had also planned to construct another camp in Giharo in southern Burundi to accommodate more than 30,000 refugees, but UNHCR learned that unexploded ordnance and marshy terrain rendered its chosen site unsuitable, so it identified a new location to house 8,000 in Ruyigi Province.

Camp authorities did not permit refugees to leave camps without obtaining prior permission and documentation and, at least in Giharo camp, they had to return before 6 p.m. For urban refugees, government-issued PSTs and refugee identity cards permitted relative freedom of movement, but the Government did not always issue the documents in a timely fashion, restricting movement for many. The Government restricted movement to and from Bujumbura at night for all, including refugees.

Burundi maintained a reservation on Article 26 of the 1951 Convention concerning freedom of movement purportedly to remain in accord with the 1969 African Refugee Convention. The latter provided that parties "shall, as far as possible, settle refugees at a reasonable distance from the frontier of their country of origin." Its Entry and Residence Law provided that the Interior Ministry could require asylum seekers to reside in a designated place while their applications were pending. Refugees could choose whether to reside in camps, but received limited assistance outside them.

The Entry and Residence Law provided that refugees should receive international travel documents, with right of reentry, "on demand."

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Burundi required refugees to obtain work permits to work legally. In Giharo camp, some refugees reportedly found work in construction and farming, but complained that movement restrictions limited their ability to work.

The Constitution did not guarantee the right to work beyond citizens and Burundi maintained a reservation to the 1951 Convention, which took its provisions on the right to work as "recommendations." The Constitution did not limit to citizens, however, the right to join unions and to strike.

Refugees could run businesses and own property, but they required permits and conditions were stricter than for citizens. The Constitution guaranteed the right to private property to all persons.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees in camps received medical and material assistance. UNHCR and other aid agencies provided refugees living in most camps with material and food assistance, medical services, housing, and primary education. In Giharo camp, rations reportedly consisted of 10 kg of flour, 5 kg of beans, and a liter of oil per month, and often arrived late. Those living in urban areas received legal and medical assistance only. A national program provided anti-retro viral treatments to refugees with HIV/AIDS both in camps and in urban areas.

The Constitution recognized a right of all persons to health services, but in practice, even nationals had trouble accessing the recently-introduced free health services as hospitals were unable to provide them given the Government's failure to reimburse them. Primary education was free for all children. Burundi's reservation to the 1951 Convention's right to primary education, however, only required it to treat refugees better than other non-citizens and only with respect to public education. In practice, Congolese children had the same access to local schools as nationals. The Constitution did not extend the right to education beyond citizens.

In its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for international donors published in 2006, Burundi included refugees but emphasized Burundian nationals returning from abroad.

USCRI Reports

  • Again, Warehoused Refugees are Massacred in Africa (Press Releases)
  • Returning to Partial Peace: Refugee Repatriation to Burundi (Press Releases)
  • Africa: New Displacement of Nearly 3 Million Africans Largely Unnoticed by Rest of World (Press Releases)

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