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.
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.
Being forced to flee your home is a life-altering experience. Packing a bag, bidding farewell to your land and livelihood, and leading your children into the unknown – all of this can indelibly divide a life history into ‘before’ and ‘after.’ Many people never get over the trauma of flight, and never give up hope that they will one day return to the land and people they love.
Earlier this year, I made my first trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in a search for some urban refugees. Although urban refugees are not officially recognised by the government of Tanzania, some organisations which work with the urban refugee population, such as Asylum Access, estimate that there may be over 10,000 in the city.