World Refugee Survey 2009: Burundi
At year’s end, Burundi hosted 26,300 refugee and asylum seekers. Many of those from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) lived in Gihinga, Gasorwe, and Musasa refugee camps, and about 200 Rwandan refugees lived in Giharo camp. Additionally, there are almost 11,000 refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas, almost all of them Congolese.
2008 Events Summary
Burundi rounded up and deported foreigners for illegal stay throughout the year, occasionally arresting asylum seekers who lacked adequate documentation as well. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and non-governmental organizations monitored detainees and UNHCR was able to secure the release of refugees and asylum seekers before their deportation, with cooperation from Burundian authorities.
Two refugee children died under suspicious circumstances during the year, with investigations into the cause continuing at year’s end. Sexual and gender-based violence was the primary danger to refugees in Burundi during 2008.
Over 600 Congolese refugees arrived at Rugombo in Cibitoke province in February, fleeing from former Rwandan fighters in Congo-Kinshasa near its border with Burundi.
In April, the police arrested around 100 people, the majority of whom were Banyamulenge refugees, and held them at the Kigobe police station. One of the detainees reported that police had arrested him and others whether or not they presented refugee identification cards.
Refugees complained of frequent cases of malaria and typhoid in Gihinga camp and that insufficient medical help is available when a World Relief delegation visted in June.
Rising food prices drove hundreds of refugees to leave Bujumbura for refugee camps in pursuit of assistance and free schooling for their children.
At year’s end UNHCR and the Government were negotiating the possible naturalization of 230 Rwandan refugees living in Giharo camp.
Law and Policy
Asylum applicants submit claims to the Government immigration service or the Police Responsible for Airspace Surveillance, Border Control, and Registration of Foreigners (PAFE) to receive Temporary Residence Permits (PSTs). UNHCR requires them to obtain PSTs before transferring them to camps.
The 1989 Entry and Residence Law and its implementing ordinance define refugees according to “the international conventions on the matter to which Burundi is a party” and prohibits their refoulement. It gives asylum seekers eight days from entry to apply and includes a right of appeal and 30 days to leave the country after rejection.
In practice, the Government does not enforce the time constraints and does not record the date of notification, as, rather than informing the refugees about their status in writing, it relies on refugees to inquire on their own at the PAFE office. Refugees are also unlikely to appeal the decision in practice. The Government issues temporary residence permits to asylum seekers, which are valid for three months. In theory, they are supposed to issue one-time residence permits, but in practice, officials renew the permits when the refugee status determinations took longer than three months.
Burundi is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention), but maintains reservations to the 1951 Convention’s rights to work, education, freedom of movement, and residence. The March 2005 Constitution recognizes the right of asylum, prohibits unlawful extradition (specifically listing genocide as a legal ground for extradition), and extends to all foreigners its and the law’s protection of persons and property.
A new refugee law, generally in compliance with the 1951 Convention, entered into force in February 2008. Burundi began drafting implementing regulations and preparing to open National Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People (ONPRA) in the second half of the year, but the previous refugee regime prevailed throughout 2008.
Detention/Access to Courts
UNHCR makes periodic visits to detention centers and follows up on reports that refugees or asylum seekers are in detention.
The 1989 Entry and Residence Law and its implementing ordinance authorize the Interior Ministry to issue identity cards to recognized refugees, but according to UNHCR, the Government only recently began providing refugees from Rwanda and Congo-Kinshasa with proper documentation. The Government issues refugee identity cards to urban refugees and refugees living in the camps.
Those in the camps without refugee identification who wish to leave have to request exit tickets from the government-appointed camp administration. These temporary documents, which can be valid for several weeks depending upon the request, include the refugees’ name, camp address, reason for leaving the camp, and destination. The camp administrator signs the exit ticket and records its issuance in a registry book. UNHCR issues ration cards to refugees in camps, but they are not identity documents and police do not treat them as such.
The 2005 Constitution extends to all persons access to courts and protection in criminal procedures.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Camp authorities do not permit refugees to leave camps without obtaining prior permission and documentation and, at least in Giharo camp, they have to return before 6 p.m. Refugees in Gihinga camp reported only being permited to leave for emergency medical care or eye care. For urban refugees, government-issued PSTs and refugee identity cards permit relative freedom of movement, but the Government does not always issue the documents in a timely fashion, restricting movement for many. The Government restricts movement to and from Bujumbura at night for all, including refugees.
Burundi maintains a reservation to Article 26 of the 1951 Convention concerning freedom of movement purportedly to remain in accord with the 1969 African Refugee Convention. The latter provides that parties “shall, as far as possible, settle refugees at a reasonable distance from the frontier of their country of origin.” Its Entry and Residence Law provides that the Interior Ministry can require asylum seekers to reside in a designated place while their applications were pending. Refugees could choose whether to reside in camps, but received limited assistance outside them.
The Entry and Residence Law provides that refugees should receive international travel documents, with right of reentry, “on demand.”
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Burundi requires refugees to obtain work permits to work legally.
The Constitution does not guarantee the right to work beyond citizens and Burundi maintained a reservation to the 1951 Convention, which takes its provisions on the right to work as “recommendations.” The Constitution does not limit to citizens, however, the right to join unions and to strike.
Refugees can run businesses and own property, but they require permits and conditions stricter than for citizens. The Constitution guarantees the right to private property to all persons.
Public Relief and Education
Refugees in camps receive medical and material assistance. UNHCR and other aid agencies provide refugees living in most camps with material and food assistance, medical services, housing, and primary education. Those living in urban areas receive legal and medical assistance only. A national program provides anti-retro viral treatment to refugees with HIV/AIDS both in camps and in urban areas.
The Constitution recognizes a right of all persons to health services, but in practice, even nationals have trouble accessing the recently-introduced free health service as hospitals are unable to provide them given the Government’s failure to reimburse them. Primary education is free for all children. Burundi’s reservation to the 1951 Convention’s right to primary education, however, only requires it to treat refugees better than other non-citizens and only with respect to public education. In practice, Congolese children have the same access to local schools as nationals. The Constitution does not extend the right to education beyond citizens.
In its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for international donors published in 2006, Burundi includes refugees but emphasizes Burundian nationals returning from abroad.
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