Why are Burundians still fleeing, despite government safety claims?


Burundi’s government is calling on refugees from its country to return home, promising it is safe and peaceful. After years of internal conflict, almost half a million Burundis have fled the country and the number of those leaving continues to rise.

Despite there being less violence on the streets of Burundi – including the capital Bujumbura, where the focus on conflict has been – the numbers leaving the small African nations is more than those returning.

So why are Burundians still fleeing, in contrast with government claims?


Human rights violations

Those arriving in Tanzania and other neighbouring countries from Burundi come with harsh tales of human rights violations. There may be less violence on the streets, they say, but the dangers are still very much present.

Not being a member of the ruling CNDD-FDD party alone is treated as a crime. A youth militia group that goes by the name of Imbonerakure is known to kidnap, torture and sometimes execute political opponents and family members of refugees.

Widespread sexual violence, including rape, has been reported by rights groups as well.


2020 elections in sight

While most refugees don’t have the luxury of looking as far as 2020, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s preparations for the country’s 2020 election suggest a quick turnaround in the country’s political crisis is unlikely.

In fact, it could get a lot worse if opposition groups fight the government’s effort to change the constitution and allow Nkurunziza to run again. If they claimed his previous campaign was unconstitutional, then paving the way for him to run once more won’t be a popular notion with opposition groups.

The question is whether they feel strong enough to put up a fight after the horrific events that followed their previous effort.


Bleak economic outlook

While Burundi’s political outlook is debatable, the economic forecast is more straightforward – and it’s not good. Years of conflict have crippled the country’s economy and the government’s hostile nature towards the international community leaves it without any real allies.

The EU suspended aid to the government last year, which saw the country lose its biggest source of international funds. Despite this, the government insisted it would increase spending, regardless of the EU and other donors pulling the plug on aid.

The government is gravely overspending and underfunded.


Burundians left to suffer alone

With security and economic turmoil shaping the daily lives of many Burundians, the harsh reality that they are alone in their struggles is becoming more apparent. The international community appears to have given up on Burundi, which leaves little external pressure on the government to implement political reforms and guarantee peace.

Until the country decides or realises it needs external help, this probably won’t change. There are too many African nations in need of help for the international community to cope with as it is – and most of them are more willing to cooperate than Burundi.

There’s barely even whisper in the UN about investigating the conduct of Burundi’s youth militia or the International Criminal Court opening a case on the Burundi crisis. Likewise, news that the government plans to change the constitution so Nkurunziza can run again ha provoked no reaction.

For those Burundians suffering at the hands of political insecurity, it’s becoming increasingly apparent they’re on their own.


Featured image: By MONUSCO Photos – Burundian refugees with water pipe., CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46293923


About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.