Since April 2015, a violent political crisis in Burundi has forced several hundred thousand people from their homes, many seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Nearly 23,000 Burundians fled overland or by lake into the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This number may seem small relative to other refugee crises around the world, but the Burundians have arrived into a region that is wracked by severe insecurity and volatility. Burundian refugees face threats from the myriad armed groups that operate in eastern DRC, in addition to Congolese security forces and migration officials who prey on vulnerable populations. A robust international response is required to protect and support Burundian refugees in the DRC, something that is lacking at present.
The recent crisis in Burundi has forced the flight of more than 220,000 refugees, of whom half are female. Many experienced gender-based violence (GBV), including sexual violence, during their flight to safety. Nearly 50 percent of Burundian women and girls reporting GBV upon arrival in Tanzania required post-rape care. Yet many refugees in Tanzania say that the threat of violence continues in their country of refuge – in and around the very camps where they should feel safe.
Refugees International is deeply concerned that the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum in Rwanda is being undermined. Specifically, refugees from Burundi claim they are being recruited into non-state armed groups as part of a systematic campaign involving both Burundian and Rwandan nationals. The activities they describe potentially amount to grave violations of international law, and could destabilize the region. Therefore as a matter of urgency, the parties to the conflict in Burundi, the Rwandan government, and the international community must all strongly reject and comprehensively prevent the recruitment of Burundian refugees.
Since April 2015, Burundi has been descending into chaos, forcing more than 200,000 civilians to flee to neighboring countries. But these well-documented refugee flows are only part of a larger, more disturbing story. The impunity and targeted persecution that exists in Burundi today has resulted in the internal displacement of untold thousands of Burundians, with some in hiding and too scared to even seek humanitarian assistance. Some of these displaced are trapped inside their own country, unable to leave because of abusive government agents and armed militias along the country’s borders.