More than 420,000 Burundians were refugees at the end of 2000: about 400,000 in Tanzania, an estimated 20,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, some 1,000 in Rwanda, and about 2,000 in a half-dozen other countries.

An estimated 600,000 or more Burundians were internally displaced.

At least 150,000 people in Burundi were newly forced to flee during 2000.

Burundi hosted about 6,000 refugees at year's end, including some 5,000 from Congo-Kinshasa and 1,000 from Rwanda.

Pre-2000 Events

Burundi's majority ethnic Hutu and minority ethnic Tutsi populations have competed for power for 30 years. A relatively small number of Tutsi elite have dominated the country's politics and military since national independence in 1962.

Military crackdowns slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Burundians, overwhelmingly Hutu, during the 1970s and 1980s. The country's first democratic elections in 1993 produced a Hutu president. Tutsi soldiers assassinated the new president and other high-ranking Hutu officials several months later, triggering a wave of violence that killed 30,000 to 50,000 people of both ethnic groups.

A 1996 coup shifted power back to Tutsi elites. A growing civil war between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-dominated military killed an additional 60,000 or more civilians during 1994-99. The country's total death toll since 1993 is believed to be 100,000 to 120,000. Some estimates place the toll much higher.

As rebel military strength increased, government authorities responded by forcing up to 800,000 Hutu civilians into designated "regroupment" camps to deprive rebels of support in rural areas. After closing most of the forced relocation camps in 1998, authorities responded to renewed rebel attacks in 1999 by re-establishing dozens of new regroupment camps and forcing more than 300,000 Hutu civilians to vacate their homes and occupy the new sites.

The war continued unabated as peace negotiations foundered. Former South African president Nelson Mandela became the chief international mediator for Burundi's peace talks in late 1999. Despite violence and bleak prospects for peace, some 200,000 refugees repatriated to Burundi during 1996-99. Many of the returnees, however, fled again whenever violence struck their communities.

2000 Violence and Politics

Vigorous mediation efforts by Mandela culminated in the signing of a peace agreement by 19 parties and factions, including the Burundian government, in August. U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to the region to encourage the fragile peace accord.

Known as the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, the settlement called for an ethnically mixed military, judicial reforms, and UN peacekeeping troops. The agreement acknowledged the "massive forcible displacements" imposed on the population and pledged that "all Burundian refugees must be able to return to their country."

However, the peace accord had little if any positive effect. The agreement contained no cease-fire provision. Numerous signatories expressed formal reservations about specific sections of the agreement, and the two main rebel groups refused to sign the accord or engage in negotiations.

As in previous years, progress in Burundi's peace negotiations seemed to inflame violence rather than dampen it. Rebels stepped up their attacks, and government troops and civilian militia responded harshly. Violence continued in southern and eastern Burundi and expanded into central and western Burundi in the second half of the year. Rebels intensified their attacks on the outskirts of the capital, Bujumbura. The government gave more arms and training to civilian Tutsi militia. Hutu extremists from Rwanda, many with military training, reportedly joined the fighting in larger numbers against the Burundian government.

Civilians suffered killings, beatings, rapes, and looting at the hands of all combatants. More than 1,000 civilians were killed in the first 10 months of the year, according to Human Rights Watch. Many atrocities went unreported as insecurity and government restrictions impeded regular access to conflict zones.

Most of the bloodiest known incidents occurred in the second half of the year. Government soldiers massacred 69 persons in central Burundi's Gitega Province in June, accusing them of being rebel supporters. Government troops killed 53 persons in eastern Burundi's Ruyigi Province in July, suspecting them of helping rebel infiltrations. Government forces killed 35 displaced persons in August.

Rebels killed at least 20 civilians in an attack on the capital in September. Regular rebel ambushes on highways – more than 140 occurred in the first seven months of the year – killed significant numbers of people. Twenty persons died in a bus ambush in December.

"Innocent civilians are being slaughtered now," Mandela stated in his mediation efforts. "There is a serious obligation for each and every leader here to recognize the importance of compromise ... . By delaying the conclusion of an agreement, you suggest that you don't care about people dying inside Burundi."

Underlying the violence, Burundi's decades-long ethnic discrimination against the majority Hutu population remained in place during 2000. Fewer than 10 percent of the country's judges and 10 percent of all lawyers were Hutu, according to a survey by an international human rights organization. Ethnic discrimination "affects every facet of society," a U.S. government human rights report observed.

Uprooted Burundians

More than 1 million Burundians – about one-sixth of the total population – were uprooted at the end of 2000, including some 400,000 who lived as refugees in neighboring countries and an estimated 600,000 internally displaced persons. An estimated 150,000 or more Burundians became newly uprooted during the year as the violence raged on.

"Burundi is facing one of the most acute problems of population displacement in Africa today," the UN's special coordinator for internal displacement stated after a visit to the country in December.

About 80,000 additional Burundian refugees fled to Tanzania during 2000. Up to 30,000 additional persons fled their homes in Makamba Province, in southern Burundi. Intensified rebel attacks and government counterattacks in central Burundi and on the outskirts of Bujumbura forced civilians to flee.

About half of the 400,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania originated from three conflict-prone provinces along the Burundi-Tanzania border: Ruyigi, Makamba, and Muyinga. All Burundian provinces, however, have produced refugees during the past seven years.

The country's massive population of internally displaced people remained largely uncounted. About 320,000 Hutu and Tutsi lived in some 200 camps and settlement sites at year's end. More than 300,000 Hutu who lived in regroupment camps the first half of the year dispersed to their homes or to other locations after the government closed most regroupment sites in mid-year (see Regroupment Camps below).

In addition, hundreds of thousands of displaced persons – overwhelmingly Hutu – survived on their own in villages, hills, and forests beyond the reach of humanitarian aid programs.

Some families remained displaced for days or weeks, others for years. The southern provinces of Makamba, Bururi, and Rutana contained camps housing more than a quarter-million displaced persons. Food and health conditions were "extremely serious" for displaced families in 12 of the country's 15 provinces, the World Food Program reported. Only 12 percent of all internally displaced persons nationwide had access to potable water, and only 40 percent had latrines with appropriate sanitation, according to a UN report in late 1999.

Uprooted Burundians were vulnerable to attacks even after fleeing their homes. Rebels regularly attacked encampments of displaced Tutsi, and government soldiers commonly suspected displaced Hutu populations of aiding insurgents. Rebel combatants and Tutsi militia both launched attacks from camps for displaced civilians, thereby increasing the camps' vulnerability as military targets.

Regroupment Camps

Burundian authorities have forcibly moved hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians into relocation camps twice in recent years. Government officials termed it a policy of regroupment; critics characterized the sites as detention camps or worse.

The first wave of forced relocation occurred during 1996-98 when the government moved at least a quarter-million persons into 50 regroupment camps scattered throughout the country. Some observers estimated that up to 800,000 people lived in the camps. Most of the original regroupment sites closed during 1998, allowing occupants to return home.

The second wave of forced relocation began in late 1999 and continued until mid-2000. In response to rebel attacks on the capital, authorities herded some 330,000 Hutu residents of Bujumbura Rural Province into more than 50 regroupment sites. Some residents who resisted the move were killed.

Approximately three-quarters of the Hutu population living on the outskirts of the capital had been forced into the designated sites by the start of 2000. The largest regroupment camp, located 18 miles (30 km) south of Bujumbura, contained some 40,000 people.

Government authorities argued that the camps were a temporary measure to protect civilians from attack and deprive rebel groups of food and lodging in rural areas. However, the camps themselves became magnets for attacks and human rights abuses. Rebels reportedly killed six occupants of a regroupment camp in February and commonly attacked military posts located near the camps, resulting in the deaths of camp residents and retaliation by government soldiers against camp occupants.

Combatants on all sides committed rapes, beatings, and robberies of people living in the forced relocation camps. Burundian authorities launched an investigation into government soldiers' systematic looting a regroupment camp in May, but officials failed to issue a final report on the incident. Rebels and government soldiers commonly pressed camp occupants into forced labor. Soldiers guarding the camps often restricted the occupants' freedom of movement and demanded bribes from people seeking to exit the camps temporarily for farming or other chores.

Humanitarian conditions in regroupment camps were often abysmal. About one-third of the camps received little or no humanitarian assistance because they were inaccessible to aid agencies. Some camps were situated atop barren hills, far from roads and water sources. Even accessible camps were overcrowded, typically with cramped, makeshift dwellings fewer than 60 square feet (7 square meters) in size, narrow paths between houses, and latrines that quickly overflowed.

The camps lacked adequate food, water, and medicines. Some sites recorded malnutrition rates of up to 25 percent among young children. Because of a shortage of food aid from international donors, WFP distributed less than one-third of the 27,000 tons of food relief that regroupment sites needed. Authorities permitted limited numbers of camp occupants to farm either their own fields or small plots on the outskirts of camps, but many families were barred from agricultural activities.

"Health conditions are deplorable. The camps are a breeding ground for communicable diseases," Refugees International concluded. Death rates in the camps resulting from disease and violence were double the death rates of populations living outside of camps, Human Rights Watch reported.

Burundi's rebel groups insisted that the regroupment camps be closed before they would participate in peace negotiations. The government, under international pressure, suddenly closed most camps in July, and gave occupants only a few hours or days to vacate the premises.

The abrupt closures caught many occupants and humanitarian agencies unprepared. Although many persons returned rapidly to their homes, tens of thousands were unable to go home immediately because of security concerns or because combatants and bandits had virtually destroyed their houses and looted their possessions.

For those reasons, 25,000 people remained at regroupment camps two months after the camps had officially closed, according to a WFP survey. Thousands of others merely moved to new locations, where they remained displaced.

"The closure of the camps represents a second cycle of forced displacement of a population already demoralized and weakened by the months spent in the camps," Amnesty International stated.

Aid workers welcomed the end of regroupment camps but emphasized that the country's displaced people and new returnees remained vulnerable. The camp closures "did not lead to an improvement in either the situation of [internally displaced persons] or the overall humanitarian conditions in the country," a UN relief report concluded in November. "Dispersed persons remain as vulnerable as ever. More often than not, they simply scattered into the surrounding areas and now survive by whatever means they can ... . Their needs have remained as pressing as ever."

General Humanitarian Conditions

Burundi's war and massive population displacement occurred in a context of pervasive poverty. Burundi ranks as one of the world's poorest countries even in times of peace.

The number of Burundians living below the local poverty line has doubled to 60 percent since 1993, according to a UN assessment. Life expectancy has fallen from 53 years to 42. Infant mortality has increased 17 percent since 1993.

Nearly 400 schools – a quarter of all schools in the country – have been destroyed. School attendance has fallen by nearly 30 percent, according to UNICEF. The war has left 25,000 children orphaned or unaccompanied, UN aid workers reported. The conflict and displacement has killed 20 percent of the country's livestock, which forms the economic backbone for many rural households.

Crop production declined by one-third during 2000. "Malnutrition rates remain unacceptably high," a UN humanitarian report stated, although starvation was rare. Injuries from landmines continued, particularly near the Burundi-Tanzania border where government forces planted mines to impede rebel infiltrations.

"Burundi is one of the most difficult places in which to undertake humanitarian work," a report by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children stated in October. "The disparity between what can be done in safety ... and what urgently needs to be done is highly frustrating for all involved."

UN agencies severely curtailed relief programs until April in reaction to the killing of two UN aid workers in October 1999. Aid programs reactivated after April remained limited in scope because of security concerns and funding shortfalls from donor nations.

UN humanitarian agencies received only one-fourth of the $36 million needed to address the country's most urgent humanitarian needs. The World Health Organization complained in July that donors had provided none of the funding required for programs to prevent maternal deaths during childbirth. WFP distributed relief food to only two-thirds of targeted beneficiaries because of funding constraints late in the year.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported assistance programs for internally displaced persons and operated numerous reintegration programs for 200,000 Burundian refugees who have returned home in recent years, including nearly 10,000 returnees in 2000. UNHCR's reintegration projects included construction and rehabilitation of schools and health clinics, supplies for housing construction by landless returnees, seeds for farming, small-loan programs, and meetings to bolster "coexistence" between Hutu and Tutsi.

"Continuing instability constituted the main constraint to ... UNHCR's program. Insufficient funding and repeated budget cuts further limited UNHCR's activities and made long-term planning difficult. Community projects ... could not be carried out as planned," UNHCR reported. "Furthermore, the evacuation of all non-essential staff in 1999 left UNHCR offices with limited" personnel.

Refugees from Neighboring Countries

Some 5,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa lived in Burundi at the end of 2000. An additional 20,000 Congolese who fled to Burundi in the 1960s continued to live in Burundi, but the U.S. Committee for Refugees no longer counted them as refugees.

Congolese refugees were a fluid population, crossing back and forth across the Burundi-Congo border as conditions permitted. Some 5,000 new Congolese refugees arrived in Burundi during the year, primarily during August to November, according to UNHCR.

Some 3,000 Congolese lived in camps, where they received food aid, medical care, and education. Insecurity along the main road to the camps disrupted food deliveries at times. UNHCR urged the government to move the refugees to a safer location. Authorities agreed to establish a new camp but failed to identify a relocation site before year's end.

Most of the 1,000 Rwandan refugees in Burundi have lived there a number of years. UNHCR attempted to encourage their repatriation or their full integration into Burundi.


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