BURUNDIAN REFUGEES: DIFFERING APPLICATION OF CONVENTIONS BY COUNTRIES OF ASYLUM IN THE SUB-REGION

An analysis conducted by ACAT-BURUNDI

Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture in Burundi (ACAT-BURUNDI) initiated this study on Burundian refugees in the countries of the sub-region, focusing on the differentiated application of the conventions by the asylum countries.

Overall, the objective is to conduct a comparative analysis on the situation of Burundian refugees in some countries of the sub-region, following the 2015 political crisis in Burundi, in order to determine the challenges and benefits for these Burundians in these countries of exile.

More specifically, the study aims to :

• To show the type of humanitarian assistance received by Burundian refugees in these different countries;
• Focus on security and security incidents for urban refugees and those living in camps in these different countries of asylum;
• To show the resilience of Burundian refugees in these different countries, the challenges, advantages and opportunities that these refugees enjoy in living in difficult conditions of exile.

In terms of methodological approach, the study covers the period from the outbreak of the 2015 crisis to December 2021. Spatially, the host countries concerned are Tanzania, DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

Various documentary resources were used, such as reports from institutions and organisations involved in the protection of human rights in general and refugees in particular. The data processing was carried out taking into account the normative and institutional framework for refugee protection at the international and regional levels as well as the same comparative criteria, namely reception, security, access to identity and travel documents, logistical support, adaptability and resilience.

The main constraint was the impossibility of visiting refugee camps in the target countries for individual interviews or focus groups and exchanges with government services, the UNHCR and NGOs working with refugees.

In order to overcome this difficulty, the opinions and testimonies of refugees were collected through a questionnaire on their respective living conditions. Other testimonies of refugees, published or broadcast by the media, were also used to complete the answers to the questionnaire.

With regard to the normative and institutional framework for the protection of refugees, the countries hosting Burundian refugees have ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
At the regional level, the same countries hosting Burundian refugees are parties to the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, which was adopted on 10 September 1969 and entered into force on 20 January 1974.

Then, in addition to these conventions, UN member states made commitments to refugees and migrants in the New York Declaration in September 2016, including the development of a “Comprehensive Framework of Action for Refugees”, which led to the adoption of the “Global Compact on Refugees” by the UN General Assembly on 17 December 2018.

With regard to the conditions of reception of Burundian refugees in host countries, stakeholders such as the UNHCR and partner organisations are facing difficulties in funding their aid programmes, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic since the beginning of 2020.

Concerning vulnerable categories, once they have been received and settled in reception centres and camps in the different countries, cases of vulnerability have been identified and taken into account by the UNHCR and its partners in the humanitarian action plans to be submitted to donors for material and financial support.

The freedom of movement of refugees is regulated differently in the host countries: in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, refugees have the freedom to move and settle in localities of their choice. However, this freedom implies the obligation to take care of themselves, whereas in the camps, the basic needs of refugees, such as housing, food and health, are relatively covered by the UNHCR and its partners. In contrast, in Tanzania and Kenya, refugees have to stay in the camps and are not allowed to move freely. In the various host countries, refugees face difficult or impossible access to identity and travel documents, with the exception of Rwanda.

Regarding logistical support and specific services, the vast majority of Burundian refugees remain dependent on international humanitarian aid as the coverage of their needs remains insufficient since the outbreak of the crisis in 2015. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the lives of refugees both in camps and in urban areas in all countries.

On the security front, some Burundian refugees, including political opponents and human rights defenders, allegedly involved in the 2015 coup attempt, are in the sights of the Burundian government, which is demanding their extradition to Burundi to be tried in Rwanda.

But other threats are manifested in the form of pressure exerted on refugees by the authorities of certain host countries, mainly Tanzania, where refugees are the most mistreated and victims of killings, abduction, extradition and forced disappearance. In the DRC, Burundian refugees remain under threat from multiple armed groups in North and South Kivu.

In terms of economic inclusion and resilience of refugees, host countries, UNHCR and its NGO partners play an important role in the economic inclusion of refugees from the time of their reception and settlement. Comparatively, Rwanda and Uganda are most highly rated by refugees as the countries that offer the best prospects for economic inclusion and resilience compared to Kenya and DRC. Tanzania is seen as the country with the most barriers to inclusion for Burundian refugees.

From the above, it is clear that the countries hosting the refugees, the UNHCR, humanitarian organisations and partner organisations in humanitarian assistance have played their role well in receiving and caring for the refugees. Refugees have generally had access to basic services such as housing, food, education, health and care for vulnerable people.

However, many challenges remain as the majority of refugees remain dependent on humanitarian assistance, which has been underfunded since the crisis began in 2015. On the security front, refugees in Tanzania in particular are subject to multiple forms of pressure to return, including acts of infringement of their security and freedom, in violation of the principle of voluntary repatriation guaranteed by refugee legislation. In the DRC, refugees face the threat of armed groups in South Kivu.

The political changeover in 2020 has led to a significant movement of repatriation of refugees. But for many other refugees, return to their country is not envisaged. They consider that the situation that led to their exile has not changed. Of course, the repatriation of refugees and their socio-economic reintegration into Burundi is the ideal and sustainable solution, but the preconditions of political stability and good governance must be guaranteed to reassure the still reluctant refugees.

The influential actors in Burundi, in the Great Lakes sub-region and at the level of the international community should therefore continue to accompany Burundi in the promotion of good governance and respect for human rights in order to improve the socio-political climate for the voluntary and massive repatriation of refugees.

In the meantime, Burundian refugees who still fear persecution should not continue to be forgotten. Rather, they should benefit more from the protection of the international community, the institutions of the host countries, UNHCR and its partners in the perspective of durable solutions for socio-economic inclusion and resilience in the host countries.

Recommendations are thus formulated and addressed to the Government of Burundi, to the countries of the sub-region that host Burundi and to the international community.

Please find the full analysis below:
Analysis Acat-Burundi on the differentiated application of the conventions for Burundian refugees by the asylum countries sub-region

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