BURUNDIAN REFUGEE CRISIS
Burundi’s most recent history has been marred by conflict, at its worst, culminating in genocide in 1993. The most recent outbreak of violence which began in April 2015 comes on the basis of the president’s refusal to step down after the end of his legal term limit. The following unrest and brutal crackdown by security forces and government affiliated militias on the population has resulted in a large-scale ongoing refugee crisis in which, by the end of 2017, an estimated 500,000 Burundians will have fled to neighboring countries.
Our refugee artisans live in the Mtendeli refugee camp along with over 50,000 other refugees. They fled their homes without any belongings, often carrying several of their children who were as young as several months old. The two day trek to the Tanzanian border took families through forests, across rivers and over the mountains lining the Tanzania/Burundi border.
“We knew the way to through the small forest paths because this is
the third time we had to flee our homes to come to Tanzania. The biggest
challenge for us was that we had to walk for two full days without having
anything to eat.”
Once at the Tanzanian border, refugee families had their names registered before being taken to their tents in the Mtendeli refugee camp. For more up to date information on the refugee crisis, see this UNHCR Fact Sheet.
LIVING IN THE MTENDELI CAMP – Struggle.
Life in the camp is hard. Our artisans live in overcrowded, fragile tents with their families. One of our artisans shares her two make-shift tents with her husband, her nine children and six other children she took up from her neighbors who remained in Burundi – 17 people total living in two tents, sleeping on the floor on woven mats.
“During the storm two days ago, our tents were flooded with water
because our trenches around the tent were not enough to carry the water away.”
There are almost no income opportunities within the camp. Outside the camp, it is illegal for refugees to work. Leaving the camp, refugees need a special permit each time which is often a hassle and can be denied. Given the population density and poor soil in the camp, our artisans said that they are unable to grow any of their own food. Instead, they depend on one monthly food ration for the entire family provided by the World Food Program. These rations were recently cut due to a shortage in funding and logistical problems. Ever since, refugees have only received about 60% of the recommended food quantities they require.
“Ever since rations were cut, the food provided by WFP (World Food Program) is not enough to feed my family.”
Overall, resources for refugees in the camp are low and are expected to be cut further as a result of large-scale underfunding of the refugee response – only 11% of the total requirement of $250million have been funded to date making this one of the lowest funded refugee emergencies worldwide.
For water, refugees have access to several public taps in the camp which open for two hours in the morning and evening. As a result of the large demand on water, families are sometimes forced to fetch water from a river outside the camp.
“So many people need water and you have to wait in long lines until it is your turn
to collect. If you fail to get it in the morning, you try again in the evening. Sometimes,
we go for two or three days without being able to fetch water from the tap.
Sometimes even buying food doesn’t help you because you don’t have any water to cook it.”
LIVING IN THE MTENDELI CAMP – Resilience.
We work with some of the most inspiring refugee women artisans. After having witnessed many tragedies in Burundi and coping with the harsh conditions in the camp setting, they retain a positive outlook on life, show incredible resilience and a strong will to improve their and their families’ lives in the camp through their weaving.
“Being part of the weaving group helps me have income to improve my family’s situation here.
It also helps me deal with the difficult situation we are in – I have many friends in the
group and we support each other with advice about resolving the struggles we are faced with.”
The weaving income is used mostly to buy food for the family to supplement the insufficient rations provided. In addition, incomes are used to buy clothes for their kids, especially now that the rainy season is starting. Many also save parts of their weaving income to invest in opening up their own small secondary businesses in the camp – having a small breakfast place or trading with essential food items like rice and beans bought in the host community market.
Looking into the future, all the artisans are asking for is a life in peace and security, where no one bothers them and their children can grow up without having to be afraid. Sadly, most artisans cannot imagine ever going back to Burundi. Given what they have witnessed, they say they could never be at peace as violence could return to their communities at any time.
“I have fled my home together with my family three times already… We are exhausted and
we don’t want to go back to Burundi anymore.”
When asked what they would like customers around the world to know about them and their lives they say:
“We want our customers to know that we are ready for their orders, as many as we can get!
Our products are beautiful and we would be excited for customers to tell their colleagues,
friends and family about them so they can also place an order and help us improve our families’
situation in the camp.”