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The Comfort of Strangers

Jinmi Adisa


Burundi: Multiple Traumas of an Extreme Sort

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1. Rwandan Refugees in Burundi

1The conditions facing Rwandan refugees in Burundi are unique and radically different from those which exist elsewhere, because of two interlocking factors. Burundi is one of the smallest but also one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. With an area of approximately 27 834 sq km, its resources cannot meet the needs of its people. The impact of the refugee population in physical terms is, therefore, enormous. According to Filip Reyntjens :

  • 1 Official estimates for mid-1988 put the population figure at 5 149 million, Filip Reyntjens, Burun (...)

Much of the population has concentrated on the fertile, volcanic soils 1 500-1 800 m above sea level, away from the arid and hot floors and margins of the Rift Valley. The consequent pressure on the land has resulted in extensive migration of Burundians, mainly to Tanzania, Zaire and Uganda. However, measures in these countries to restrict employment to nationals are closing outlets for such migration.1

2The influx of refugees from Rwanda has had a direct impact on how resources are distributed, exploited and shared. The large flow of foreign aid into Burundi is the result of a response mechanism to prevent disaster by the international community ; various NGOs, the European Union and UN agencies have been brought in. This flow of economic assistance designed to ameliorate the situation would normally have been a blessing, except for a more signifïcant factor, that is, Burundi's political configuration.

3Burundi is not a normal or conventional state. It is a fractious society belaboured by political turmoil and persistent violence arising from inter-ethnic conflict. The government, if indeed it can be labelled as such, is hardly a functioning apparatus. It is immobilized by social dissension, ethnic antagonism and ethnically fuelled internal power struggles that have become particularly virulent since the assassination of Burundi's first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, in October 1993 and the demise of his successor, Cyprien Ntaryamira in the mysterious plane crash that ignited the Rwandan war in April 1994.

  • 2 Burundi itself has also witnessed several upheavals after the Rwandan refugee influx. The WFP Outl (...)

4Internal upheavals in Burundi have caused large numbers of the population to flee to Rwanda and other neighbouring states. Hence, Burundi provides the special case of a refugee generating country that also houses refugees.2 Elements of chaos are inherent in this situation.

  • 3 There has been a tenuous power-sharing convention in a shaky coalition formula instituted after th (...)

5This chaos is given further impetus by the geo-ethnic structure of political confrontation. The flight of Rwandan refugees across the border into Burundi created further problems for Burundi deriving from the general history of the region, its common colonial heritage with Rwanda, the interrelatedness of the population of both countries, historical parallels, ethnicity and the factor of geographical contiguity. The geo-ethnic mix of the two countries is the same and has given rise to similar violent confrontations between Hutu and Tutsi. Following the June elections of 1993, formal political power in Burundi lay with the nominal ruling Front pour la Democratic au Burundi (FRODEBU),3 which is dominated by the Hutu, but the real power resides with the Tutsi-controlled army. The Tutsi in Burundi have managed to hold on, albeit precariously, to the levers of power for over three decades, even though the Hutu have been the de facto rulers of neighbouring Rwanda, since July 1959. In Burundi the only serious challenge to Tutsi hegemony was the election of Ndadaye, a Hutu, in 1993 ; his subsequent assassination undermined the fragile balance of the status quo. The flight of Rwandan (Hutu) refugees into Burundi raised the spectre of an alliance between disaffected Hutu from Rwanda and Burundi which could have completely destabilized the situation.

6The presence of Rwandan refugees in Burundi, therefore, assumed a special significance because of the specific, strong and intense links between the two countries. The result is that without doing anything in particular to warrant suspicion or attention, these refugees have become embroiled in the internal politics of their host country. This has had severe consequences for their own welfare, as well as the humanitarian or aid agencies and foreign missions concerned about their plight.

2. Twin Dimensions : Exodus and influx

7The refugee problem in Burundi has two logically interrelated dimensions. It has involved both an incursion and an exodus ; their combined impact on Burundi has been negative. Following the ascendance of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) to power in Kigali in July 1994, the Rwandan Tutsi refugees resident in Burundi returned home as did their kinsmen in Uganda. A new caseload of Hutu refugees, however, simultaneously replaced them. The numbers of people involved were considerable. As 70 000 long-term Rwandan Tutsi refugees left Burundi, over 200 000 Hutu (Rwandan) refugees came in, to underline once again the peculiar and distinct character of the Burundian situation.

2.1 Historical context of the movement of Tutsi refugees

8A large number of Tutsi refugees fled to Burundi after the successful Hutu revolution in 1959. This was hardly surprising. Burundi, appeared as a natural haven for the Tutsi, given their similar historical background, geo-ethnic configuration and the fact that the Tutsi were the ruling elite in Burundi. After the repeated failure of the Tutsi (in exile) to reclaim power in Kigali between 1962 and 1966, the refugees settled down to life in Burundi with their families. By the time the RPF came to power in 1994, the refugees had produced another generation of Tutsi, the bulk of whom were born in Burundi and had spent their entire lives there. Some had integrated into the society ; others were barely tolerated. Many had established themselves in leadership positions in the health, education and the business sectors.

  • 4 The endless spiral of political conflicts threatens the stability of Burundi's socio-economic fabr (...)

9The exit of such long-term non-indigenous residents left a vacuum in the country, already paralysed by the internecine feuds and political crises that had become a constant feature of Burundi life since the death of President Melchior Ndadaye in 1993. The lack of new investment in both the public and private sectors, resulting from an insecure environment, produced a dramatic fall in economic growth. Surveys undertaken by the World Food Programme revealed that agricultural production in 1994 appeared to have dropped by 17 per cent from the previous annual averages. The population, which was barely self-sufficient before the crisis, was now even more dependent on external aid. According to data collected by UNDP in the 1980s, 85 per cent of the rural population were already living below the poverty-line. In general, data is very hard to come by, but estimates from the Ministry of Finance at the end of 1994 indicated that the GNP per capita may have dropped to US$170 in 1994, down from $220 in 1992. The standard of living declined as individual purchasing power was further eroded by an estimated inflation rate of 15 per cent in 1994. Moreover, in addition to an ailing economy, the country has had to face a significant reduction in foreign aid ; figures for 1994 have not been processed completely but the trend seems clear. While in 1992, Burundi had received $318 million in foreign aid equal to about 25 per cent of its GNP, this figure appears to have dropped to a third of this level.4 The GNP for 1994 went down by 16 per cent as compared to 1992 and the first six months of 1993. Agricultural production, which alone represents 50 per cent of the GNP and provides 80 per cent of foreign exchange income (mainly from coffee and tea exports), saw a sharp decline, primarily because a great number of people were affected by the civil strife and could not farm. This, in turn, affected the health status of the people. In March 1994, a nutritional survey carried out by the Ministry of Health, Belgian Cooperation and UNICEF on the World Food Programme aid beneficiaries showed that during the months following the October 1993 crisis, malnutrition rates rose from 5.6 per cent to 12.5 per cent, of which 3 per cent was severe.

10The problems of the various sectors were accentuated by the exodus of the Rwandan (Tutsi) personnel. Education and health were adversely affected by the exit of 27 doctors and hundreds of primary and secondary school teachers, which contributed to a drop in the quality of general services in both sectors. Rwandan businessmen left with their capital assets, aggravating the problem of unemploy-ment in a deteriorating socio-economic climate. Rwandan refugees had also been active in agricultural production in and around the camps and their exit accelerated a decline in agricultural production as arable lands around the camp were left to fallow.

11Therefore, the exodus of about 70,000 Rwandan Tutsi refugees made a dent in Burundi's socio-economic life, made worse by political instability and the sharp decline in production. Their exit was important as much for its timing as for the gap it created in Burundi's productive sectors, when the country could least afford it. Even so, in quantitative and qualitative terms, the exodus was far less significant when compared to the influx of Rwandan (Hutu) refugees.

2.2 The influx of new refugees : Arrival

12Ironically, the first wave of new refugees from Rwanda in the second half of April 1994 consisted of 43,000 Tutsi seeking shelter from the genocide in Rwanda. As soon as the RPF took over the reins of government in July, both new and long-term Tutsi refugees went back to Rwanda. The Kanyaru border area near Kigali was filled with people throughout July and August making their way back to Rwanda with wagons loaded with household goods. Their departure coincided with the arrival of Hutu refugees — about 250,000 — as from July 1994. There was some repatriation and some movement in March 1995, when tumultuous political conditions in Burundi prompted some of the refugees to try to relocate to Tanzania. The Tanzanians closed their borders, but it is estimated that about 30,000 Hutu crossed into Tanzania ; as the refugee figure in Burundi fell to about 220,000. The figures have continued to fall, albeit only marginally ; by June 1995, UNHCR sources in Burundi put the number at 190, 631 (about 200,000) spread over seven camps — Magara, Majuri, Kibezi and Ruvumbu, Rukuramigabo, Mugano and Ntamba — in the three provinces of Ngozi, Kirundo and Muyinga of northern Burundi (figure 7)

Figure 7. Refugee population in northern Burundi

2.3 Reception : Emergency needs and material assistance

13At the time the first wave of Rwandans came across the border in April 1994, UNHCR presence in Burundi was much smaller, although it had the advantage of preparing for a different contingency : the repatriation of Burundi refugees from the neighbouring countries of Tanzania, Zaire, Rwanda, etc., estimated at 263,000. This repatriation exercise followed on the successful conclusion of the June 1993 elections which ushered President Melchior Ndadaye to power. In his first presidential speech, Ndadaye urged ail Hutus who had fled Burundi to come back and asked for the cooperation of UNHCR and the assistance of the international community to facilitate this process. Consequently, the Ministry of Repatriation was instituted. When the first wave of Rwandans came, it was relatively easy to cope, the repatriation infrastructure was in place and the NGOs were prepared. By the time the second wave of Hutu came, the infrastructure for reception was well established, but unfortunately, political issues once again hindered the repatriation process.

14The main problem at this stage revolved around the question of camp site identification for development. The government had to indicate the sites so that the UNHCR in alliance with NGOs could set them up. A quick-fix operation was required, but political considerations clouded the decision-making process. Besides, there was the general problem of the availability of land in view of the population density and land scarcity. It seemed logical, therefore, that UNHCR should use the camps abandoned by the Tutsi refugees, in addition to special sites chosen in April. However, as a top UNHCR official confided, the Burundi government would not entertain such a plan.

  • 5 Interview at Bujumbura, 21 June 1995.

When they left, we thought we could use the (old) sites. Of course, the Tutsi took the roofing sheets but the area had infrastructures that were set up. However, not a single camp was made available. Government embarked on a new exercise in camp identification. This was the clearest signal that the refugees would be assimilated into the process of internal politics.5

  • 6 ibid

15The Hutu refugees themselves were apprehensive as to what awaited them in Burundi. The first rush of Hutu refugees was towards Tanzania. The second group of refugees hesitated and stayed at the borders of Burundi. Aware of the political climate, they were reluctant to come in because they were not sure if they were wanted. Ironically, this hesitation facilitated orderly arrangements because UNHCR officials had to go to the border to bring them in and this was done as soon as the camps were prepared.6

3. The Impact on Host Communities

16The main stress that the refugee presence put on local communities was environmental dégradation : i.e., deforestation and pollution. Deforestation was more significant as it affected national, communal, private lands and forest reserves. Deforestation began with the new wave of Tutsi refugees that came in April 1994 ; about 4,500 were settled in Kivumbu and stayed there for only three months before returning to Rwanda. Within these three months, however, what had been a pine forest stretching for about 2 kilometres from the camp was felled and cleared. The second, larger influx of Hutu over a longer period was more devastating. To resettle » about 200,000 refugees and displaced people within Burundi, trees were cut to get wood for door frames, to construct schools, health and nutrition centres, latrines, etc:

17Refugee needs compounded the problem. Wood was the only source of fuel in the camps and supplies came wholly from Burundi's forest resources. The Report of the Bellerive Foundation in November 1994 showed that rations of wood given to refugees represented only a third of consumption needs. This triggered a frenzied exploitation of ligneous resources including shoots of eucalyptus plants. Trees were hastily felled with inappropriate equipment, causing damage to the stumps. Stumps were later uprooted systematically. Burundian charcoal sellers took advantage of the high demand and employed refugees to help in the collection of wood. There was a proliferation of Burundian firewood sellers around the camps and in Rukuramigabo, where fuelwood resources were not close to the camp, a firewood market developed to supplement supplies. Even trees meant to beautify streets were cut or uprooted and an almost equal number of displaced Burundians combined with the refugees to put pressure on the environment.

  • 7 ibid., 22 June 1995

18Pollution was another major problem. The main sources were domestic waste, poor drainage and improper dams in densely populated areas such as Ntamba. Not ail forms of pollution were present in ail the camps. However, the problem was particularly serious in Magara where garbage heaps kept growing in front of buildings, since the sanitation services left the task of clearing them to the refugees. In Majuri, in the absence of disinfectants, houseflies infested the latrines. Camp leaders in Mugano complained about the same problem. Up till January 1995, when a mission highlighted the problem, UNHCR had not evolved a general strategy for waste disposal in the camps. Yet, the 40,000 households spread among the seven refugee camps produced an average of 40,000 kg per day, i.e., 14,560 tonnes per year.7

19The third factor was the indemnization of private lands. In the hurry to install refugees in camps, both the High Commission for Refugees and Burundi government authorities did not take the time to determine the status of the occupants of the land. Rather than sign official agreements they resorted to a gentleman's agreement, based on mutual understanding. This was a mistake. Burundi has a complex land tenure system ; traditional rules guiding land use forbid spontaneous or long-term occupation of communal or national lands. The people whose lands were taken and used as camp sites, began to create difficulties ; although most of the claims had no legal basis, their angry presence was a threat to public security. Moreover, it was difficult to respond appropriately to demands for compensation, as the issue of rightful ownership had not been previously verified. Efforts made by the provincial authorities to help the UNHCR were frustrated by the increasing number of requests that kept flowing into the office of the High Commission for Refugees in Ngozi.

20The refugees also put pressure on public infrastructures, particularly health facilities. This problem, however, manifested mainly at the initial stage of influx. Political conditions within Burundi stimulated both the High Commission and the NGOs to respond positively and vigorously to refugee health demands, with the result that the camps are now virtually self-contained with respect to health..

  • 8 Andrei Cavalho, Resident Representative, UNDP Bujumbura, Security issues and development in border (...)
  • 9 ibid.
  • 10 ibid.

21The effects on the economy appear to be less amenable to quick-fix remedies. There are claims that the Rwandan war and refugee problem has restricted Burundi's access to the Rwandan market, which was a major outlet for local manufacturing and trading.8 Burundian manufacturer and traders are now competing with NGOs and aid agencies for transportation services ; this has severely limited their access to vehicles which carry their valuable goods and spare parts from Dar-es-Salaam, which is the main transit point for Burundian exports.9 It is also alleged that rail-wagons have been fully booked by the World Food Programme to transport food to refugees in northern Burundi and the Kivu area of Zaire. In addition, the prices of commodities in the local markets in Ngozi and Kiryndo are inflated because of the increased demand to meet the needs of the refugees.10 The prices of foodstuffs have been pushed beyond the reach of average local consumers, who are becoming increasingly angered by this trend. Violent clashes between refugees and the local population have become a regular feature of the Burundi political terrain, underscoring the realization that the most significant impact of the refugee presence is political.

4. Host State Response : Caging the refugees

22The refugees were quickly absorbed into the domestic political turmoil, instigating serious co-habitation problems. This was perhaps inevitable, given the long standing historical connection between Rwanda and Burundi. The character of the social landscape was one in which the politics of ethnicity were imposed on every single social and political development. This phenomenon continues to replicate itself in disastrous ways. Burundians fear that disaffected Hutu elements in Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire might join together to alter the political geography of Burundi. More significantly, Tutsi extremists in Burundi saw the Rwandan (Tutsi) refugee presence as a political lever that could be manipulated to extend their own power base. They pursued this objective with zeal ; thus, the refugees became pawns and players in the wider Burundi political game.

  • 11 United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Situation Report, 22 March - 2 May 1995 ; WFP (...)

23The outcome created a precarious security situation in and around the camps. Soldiers shot into the midst of refugee camps and many refugees who ventured out of the camps were killed. The number of violent incidents between 27 March and 3 April 1995 serves to illustrate the general trend. An attack on Majuri camp on 27 March, left 12 dead and 22 wounded. Two refugees were killed in Kirundo on 2 April. One was beaten to death while in custody. The other was arrested and beaten to death for having left Rukuramigabo camp without proper authorization. On 3 April two refugees were killed in Muyinga province as they travelled between Mugano and Ntamba camps. These were not isolated incidents. In three separate incidents on 19 and 21 April, 8 other refugees who ventured out of the Mugano camp in Muyinga province without proper authorization were reported to have been killed.11 Repeated attacks on Rwandan refugees in Cibitoke province caused 1 000 to flee to Rugome in Zaire. In the second week of June, 14,000 refugees moved from Muyinga to the border to escape a similar situation. The logical conclusion was that Rwandan refugees were caged like animals in a zoo, but their keepers who were supposed to protect them behaved like game hunters, and actually attacked them.

  • 12 Gemmo Lodesani, Director, World Food Programme

24This situation was aggravated by a new phenomenon that began in 1994 and took on special significance in 1995 : the forceful assimilation of aid workers into the inter-ethnic conflict. Expatriates, humanitarian assistance workers and diplomats also became the target of assaults, verbal and written threats, and continual harassment by local inhabitants on the basis of flimsy accusations. Tutsi extremists charged that they had singled out the Hutu refugees for assistance and neglected the Burundian displaced population who had recently returned to Burundi. This was patently false. The UNHCR mandate was specifically related to refugees but, as previously noted, plans had been put in place for Burundian repatriates. Also the various NGOs — CARE, OXFAM, CARITAS, etc. — originally assisted ail vulnerable groups, among which refugees were only a small proportion. Of course, displaced adults who are local citizens are a temporary phenomenon and require short-term relief, while the sustenance of refugees is a continuous operation. The WFP has also observed that figures for the displaced population were grossly inflated to encourage a 'free hand-out' system which obscured the effects of Burundi's political situation on the economy of the country. A director of WFP strongly emphasized this point in Bujumbura.12 A WFP manuscript entitled The Realistic Scenario : Streamlining food aid to Burundian internally displaced and refugees, states that the only realistic option is a phase-down of free general food distribution over the next five months. It also reviewed the present state of free food assistance in Burundi and concluded that :

not more than 40 per cent (200 000 persons) of the present beneficiary figure is in real need of free food and other humanitarian aid.... Thus, the present level of free food aid to Burundian internally displaced persons appears too high in relation to real needs. In addition, the negative effects are becoming increasingly worrying : (a) a particular strata of the population have grown used to unpunished theft and diversion of food/non food aid as an easy source of income ; (b) aid dependency among beneficiaries is widespread ; (c) most importantly, food aid is often subject to politicization. Efforts by authorities are mainly focused on ensuring food aid assistance rather than developing opportunities for the population to attain self-sufficiency. After 15 months, the present level of free food aid to Burundian displaced (5 600 tonnes per month) has lost its usefulness in ensuring food security and fostering stability. Rather, it tends to counteract the process and thus creates significant destabilizing risks for the whole region.

25Top Burundian government officials privately admit the validity of some of the criticisms, but they insist that food aid remains a prime need on humanitarian grounds. To restore motivation for self-reliance, the World Food Programme began to streamline its operations, targeting vulnerable groups and implementing a 'food for work' programme. This gave rise to resentment in Burundian political circles.

26By 1995, violent attacks on humanitarian organizations and their personnel escalated to alarming proportions, and included aggravated assault, imprisonment, killing of national and international aid workers, and looting of warehouses and convoys (see appendix I, end of this chapter). The last straw was the shooting in cold blood of Dimtri Lasearis, a Greek national working for the American NGO, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), on 8 May 1995.

27The spate of attacks on humanitarian organizations sustained a political climate that favoured an interdiction on food supplies to refugees. At various times, WFP trucks were hijacked and several tonnes of food stolen. Furthermore, the attacks created a siege mentality which rendered relief operations extremely difficult and hazardous. Deborah McWhinney, CARE Programme Coordinator in Bujumbura, observed :

We have staff that do not show up for 10 days and we do not know whether they are alive or dead. With the sporadic incidence of violence continuing throughout the country and the general harassment at military checkpoints, most humanitarian movements take place in convoys. Even so, there is no foolproof security guarantee. Recently, the American ambassador, travelling in convoy with miliary escorts, was attacked in broad daylight and two men were shot dead. The worst aspect of the situation is the tendency towards mental paralysis instilled by a process of thought-control. There is extreme consciousness. To speak in a certain way and in a certain form is to label oneself. People read everything into pronouncements or activities in relation to themselves. It is an us versus them situation. One has to be careful of what is said and who says it. Who to hire and who to fire.

What is really worrisome is that the high water mark for insecurity is continuously escalating. There are high tides and low tides within a spectrum of increasing aggravation. The worst situation is when you have an hiatus of calm. Then you can be sure of a tidal wave.

28Another NGO official with the Initiative Humanitaire Africaine (IHA) observed :

  • 13 Interview, Bujumbura 20 June 1995

We joke among ourselves about wearing bullet proof vests and using armed helicopters for relief supplies instead of convoys. But who is kidding who ? We are not joking at ail. We are only periscoping possibilities.13

29The plight of relief organizations in this atmosphere of generalized insecurity is aggravated by a political climate of impunity. Those who commit atrocities go unpunished, emphasizing the fact that the government is not an operative machinery, but a contrasting density of wills. Real power in Burundi lies with the army, which is often incited by Tutsi political extremists.

30Against this background, relief agencies hold constant meetings to evaluate their options. It has become increasingly clear that if things continue the way they are, some will have to leave. Agencies such as the International Red Cross, CARE, MSF-B, etc., accustomed to operating in war zones, are likely to stay, but will downgrade their operations and streamline relief assistance to minimize risks for their personnel. The most worrisome aspect of this situation is not just that the consequent modification and shrinking of material assistance will pose additional difficulties in the precarious circumstances of Rwandan refugees in Burundi, but that a situation in which aid agencies leave Burundi may be precisely what Tutsi extremists and sympathizers in the Burundian army want. There is a real concern that those who hold the levers of power in Burundi are not much influenced by international diplomacy or compelled by international law and declarations ; and are desirous that the 'international eye' restraining behaviour should go away. If that happens, then the Rwandan (Hutu) refugees in Burundi have definitely moved from the frying pan into the fire.

5. Refugee Prospects

  • 14 Border incidents have increased the threat of armed confrontation between Tanzanian and Burundi fo (...)
  • 15 At times, there is even forcible repatriation

31It seems obvious that the presence of large numbers of Rwandan (Hutu) refugees has not helped the political climate of Burundi. It is a destabilizing element. This is not because of the subversive activities of the refugees as often alleged. The Rwandan refugee population that came to Burundi knew what they were up against. They were aware of the political climate of Tutsi hegemony and they knew that they could not misbehave. Again, they are a very tranquil population made up of peasants. With very few exceptions, these were not the people that engaged in genocide. Their flight to Burundi was instigated by fear. They are in Burundi not because they want to be there, but because they have nowhere else to go. Some have tried to move to Tanzania but the border was closed. In certain cases, the Burundian army also pursued the Rwandan refugees into Tanzania creating regional political difficulties.14 The problem these refugees face is that Tutsi extremists and certain elements in the Burundian army will not leave them alone. These extremists attack refugee camps and shoot any refugees that move outside the camps.15 Aid agencies are drawn into this mythical dragnet and there are rumours and suspicions that these organizations are becoming the 4th ethnicity in this deadly game.

32Burundi political authorities have constantly expressed the desire to see the refugees go. The Prime Minister reiterated this position on 4 June 1995, in Magara outside Ngozi. Almost every other significant actor in the Burundi political dilemma shares these sentiments, including humanitarian organizations. The Burundian army and the Tutsi ruling class want the refugees to go away for obvious reasons. Even the nominally ruling FRODEBU wants them to go because they realize that the longer the refugees stay in Burundi, the more difficult it will be to forge ahead with a reconciliation process. Officials of aid agencies and foreign missions privately admit that they share this wish to see them go. One very senior official confided :

This may look inhuman, and it looks like a contradiction in terms because refugees are a major reason why we are here. But if refugees stay here they are likely to exacerbate cohabitation problems and help the country blow up. Then we will have refugee movements towards even Rwanda complicating an already difficult situation beyond repair.

33The 'silver lining to the black cloud' is that Rwandan refugees in Burundi would like to go home too. Living in a caged-in atmosphere of generalized insecurity, the desire to go home among refugees is strong. "If one has to die," one refugee noted nostalgically, "it may be better to do it at home."

34Between the last week of May and the 16th of June about 1 300 refugees were voluntarily repatriated, while another 1 000 went home spontaneously. This total of about 2 300 is the highest experienced so far. Yet, fear of what will happen in Rwanda remains strong : "We face dangers in Burundi but there is still a small hope of living through the day." Some say that going home would mean certain death.

35This situation spotlights Burundi as the country for which significant repatriation should be carried out first and quickly ; it is a test case for the government in Kigali and the international community. If the government of the Rwandan Patriotic Front is sincere about its declarations on repatriation and reintegration, the repatriation of the Rwandan refugees in Burundi would be an ideal case for building such confidence.


36Violence Against Humanitarian Organizations in Burundi 7 January - 18 May 1995


37Ngozi Theft of food from World Food Program (WFP) warehouse (7/1)

38Muyinga Around mid-January, staff of WFP threatened on various occasions, two WFP international staff taken hostage, WFP forced to temporarily suspended activities

39Staff of IFRC taken hostage in their warehouse and released after four hours (21/1)

40Family members of national doctor working for Belgian Red Cross killed, the doctor himself being in Bujumbura at that time (21/1)

41Grenade thrown at UNHCR residence (23/1)

42Bujumbura UNICEF team harassed in Kamenge while returning from field trip (23/1)

43Aggression against UNREO expatriate in the centre of town (28/1)


44Bujumbura UNDP staff travelling to work forced to leave agency's bus and subsequently threatened in Ngagara (2/2)

45Ngozi Two WFP staff (one national and one international) beaten up, one WFP contracted insurance broker killed (18/2)

46Kirundo Two grenades thrown into compound of Médecins Sans Frontieres-France (MSF-F), wounding one child (15/2); five MSF-F staff imprisoned (14/2); expatriâtes accused of traffîcking weapons: MSF forced to suspend activities and leave the area, with two intemationals having to leave Burundi altogether for security reasons.

47Ruyigi Local personnel of Action Aid taken hostage for 3 days in Rusengo and then released (mid-February)


48Ngozi Truck of AICF stolen and later retumed (3/3)

49Two international field officers from WFP and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) threatened with machetes during food distribution — forced to flee and leave behind food (early March)

50Kirundo Grenade thrown into garden of residence of an expatriate staff of the

51European Development Fund (7/3)

52Grenade thrown into compound of the NGO Intersos (20/3)

53WFP trucks attacked and looted : 20 metric tons of oil stolen (29/3)

54WFP trucks with 20 metric tons of maize looted (29/3)

55WFP international field officer taken hostage in a camp for displaced persons and released after several hours

56Bujumbura Stones thrown at UNDP car (22/3)

57Car of Action Aid shot at 10 km outside Bujumbura on RN 7 (24/3)

58Gitega UNICEF mission harassed by group of youngsters (10/3)

59Cankuzo Local personnel of Action Aid taken hostage for 2 days and then released (early March)


60Bujumbura Car belonging to CARE destroyed by grenade (1/4)

61UNICEF national staff member disappeared from his quarters without trace (same day that 4 other people are reportedly kidnapped) (2/4)

62Theft in UNREO car — radio equipment destroyed (5/4)

63Throwing of stones and bottles at UNICEF car — expatriate worker slightly injured (17/4)

64Armed people break into UNHCR office and steal radio equipment (17/4)

65Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) warehouse broken into — night watchmen held at gunpoint, radio and other equipment stolen (21/4)

66Armed attack on Chinese cooperation project COTEBU — 3 Chinese cooperants wounded (22/4)

67UNICEF consultant taken into custody and placed under house arrest for several days for suspicion of being associated with armed people — later exonerated (end of April)

68Muyinga 23 metric tons of food stolen from WFP trucks, and international logistics officer threatened (3/4)

69Three WFP trucks attacked by stone throwing mob — 25 metric tons of food stolen (4/4)

70Two CARITAS trucks containing 23 metric tons of food attacked and looted (20/4)

71Muyinga cont'd. Nineteen WFP trucks attacked between Tanzania-Burundi border and forced to unload 526 metric tons of food in different locations in Muyinga province — 80 metric tons recovered — international staff member's life threatened (22/4)

72Theft of personal objects in UNHCR staff residence (28/4)

73Priest in Muyinga killed by people reportedly in a car bearing UNICEF logo, giving rise to rumors of UNICEF involvement (26/4)

74Kirundo Two WFP trucks containing 40 metric tons of food attacked and looted (23/4)

75Ngozi WFP car attacked by stone throwing mob (15/4)

76Kayanza CRS expatriate worker stopped at improvised road block, personal belongings stolen (beginning of April)

1 MAY - 18 MAY

77Bujumbura Warehouse of Oxford UK and Ireland attacked by armed people — hydraulic equipment stolen (9/5)

78GTZ warehouse attacked by armed people — mechanical equipment stolen (4/5)

79Expatriate UNDP staff member harassed after small traffic accident (15/5)

80Kirundo Expatriate worker of CRS killed with a gunshot to the head (8/5)

81Ngozi Attempt to steal WFP truck from inside their warehouse (18/5)

82Source : UNICEF, Burundi Emergency Update No 4 (24 May 1995).


1 Official estimates for mid-1988 put the population figure at 5 149 million, Filip Reyntjens, Burundi, Physical and Social Geography, Europa Publications, 1991. The 1990/1991 population has been variously estimated at 5.85 million (World Food Programme : Burundi Emergency Programme Outline, 1995).

2 Burundi itself has also witnessed several upheavals after the Rwandan refugee influx. The WFP Outline gives three main instances : (a) In October-November 1994, following military operations in Gbitoke province, about 50,000 Burundians crossed the border into Zaire and settled in and around camps between Uvira and Kamanyola ; (b) For the same reason, 4°000 to 5°000 Burundians crossed into Rwanda and settled near Cyangugu ; (c) 10 000 Rwandan refugees (in Burundi since June 1994) have left for Ngara (Tanzania) for security reasons.

3 There has been a tenuous power-sharing convention in a shaky coalition formula instituted after the death of President Ntaryamira. The other major political party is the Union pour le Progrès National (UPRONA) which has been a significant factor in Burundi politics since independence. Alongside FRODEBU and UPRONA are a variety of smaller parties.

5 Interview at Bujumbura, 21 June 1995.

6 ibid

7 ibid., 22 June 1995

8 Andrei Cavalho, Resident Representative, UNDP Bujumbura, Security issues and development in border areas with Rwanda. Paper presented at the First RBA-UNCHS (Habitat) Consultation for UNDP Resident Representatives from African Countries in Crisis. The same allegations were repeated to me by government officials in Burundi.

9 ibid.

10 ibid.

11 United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Situation Report, 22 March - 2 May 1995 ; WFP Weekly Emergency Updates (January-16 April 1995).

13 Interview, Bujumbura 20 June 1995

14 Border incidents have increased the threat of armed confrontation between Tanzanian and Burundi forces. The Tanzanian government has publicly accused the Burundian army of engaging in cross border incursions which violate the territorial integrity of Tanzania. The Burundian governement has denied the charges. See for instance, Burundi-Tanzanie — Le gouvemment burundais fort étonné des accusations tanzaniennes de violations des ses frontiers, Le Renoveaux du Burundi (samedi, 17 Juin 1995).

15 At times, there is even forcible repatriation

Notes de fin

4 The endless spiral of political conflicts threatens the stability of Burundi's socio-economic fabric and could lead to its collapse. Figures provided here are taken from various issues of UNICEF Burundi Emergency Update ; the 4 February 1995 edition offets a concise view of the général economic picture, UNICEF Burundi : Emergency Update Vol. 2, no.l (February 1995).

12 Gemmo Lodesani, Director, World Food Programme

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 7. Refugee population in northern Burundi
Fichier image/jpeg, 98k

© Institut français de recherche en Afrique, 1995

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