Burundian refugees, endless victims of a forgotten crisis -By Armel Gilbert Bukeyeneza Le Monde

In the middle of the savannah, a jungle of houses. Hard huts and makeshift shelters draw as far as the eye can see one of the largest and oldest refugee camps in Uganda : Nakivale. A name that resonates with all the conflicts in this area.

With more than 100,000 exiles from Burundi , the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia and the two Sudans, the district of Isingiro in the south-west of the country , knows what a refugee is. Yet, under this term lie great disparities, many degrees in misery. And here as elsewhere, the worst off are the Burundians. Recently, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recalled that "the Burundian crisis is the most underfunded in the world".

(Read also Uganda suspected of inflating the number of refugees)
"It's a crisis we do not hear about and pay little attention to," UNHCR photographer Helena Christensen, a model and UNHCR sympathizer, told IRIN from Mahama camp in Rwanda. -November. Yet, there are 366,000 Burundians scattered in the countries of the subregion (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and the DRC) since 1993 and the beginning of the conflict. Today, many of them are struggling with a daily food ration, the endless victims of a protracted crisis.

Masters and enslaved
In Nakivale, Burundians measure their forgetting every day, even if the first impression is misleading: it's like being in a village, with its stalls, bars, restaurants, parking that connects the camp with the nearest town, Mbarara.

One evening in November, in the valley stuck under the Kabazana neighborhood, largely populated by Burundians and Rwandans, songs are rising from a Catholic church, but they are not hymns. And for good reason, the church has been transformed into a school by Hope International School, which wants to learn to read and count to 130 small Burundians who could not afford a real school and arrive on an empty stomach in the morning.

"Education is very expensive here," says the teacher at Hope International School, standing in the rubble of the classrooms carried away by the latest weather: "As Burundians are the poorest of all refugees, we organized with the support of the Catholic Church to improvise classes and allow children to attend classes. We ask them for a very small sum, 13,000 Ugandan shillings per quarter [about 3 euros] , to meet the minimum requirements. But even that is complicated. There is no teaching material. We work in total precariousness. "

Besides Hope International School, there is the Islamic crèche and the primary schools of Congolese or Ethiopians. All are in the hands of private individuals who make teaching a business like any other. In Nakivale, business is king. There are the rich and the poor, the masters and the enslaved, like "these Banyamulenge [a Rwandophone group from eastern DRC] who have to do the dishes for the Somalis against a few coins," says a guide of the place.

In the case, Burundians inherited the wrong role. "The Ugandan government gave land to those who arrived a long time ago, at the beginning of the crisis. Rwandans, Somalis, Congolese and Eritreans had time to make their fortune in agriculture before Uganda changed its rules. Nowadays, we give only a small plot, just to build a small house. Burundians arrived at the wrong time, " said one of the Makerere University group established there to offer legal assistance.

Fear of infiltrators
In this difficult context, Zainabu, a widow, quickly made her choice: her two daughters and her son will not go to school. "To send a child would cost me at least 100,000 shillings. I can not find such a sum anywhere, " says the woman who lost some of her physical abilities during an attack in Bujumbura in 2015: bullets crushed her left leg, right hand and a breast. Determined to mount a small pancake business that she prepares herself to feed her three children, Zainabu also does not want to hear about the schools of the UNHCR, free. "There you do not even know that your child will come to class or go to school because there are so many people that teachers can not do personal monitoring," She laments.

A criticism elsewhere shared by Catherine Wiesner, regional coordinator of the UN agency, which recognizes that "schools in refugee camps in Uganda are overcrowded" : "This is true for refugees from Nakivale, but the situation is similar for all refugee groups in the country. In Kyangwali, we sometimes have 19 teachers for 4,000 students. UNHCR is working with the Ugandan government to build more schools and recruit more qualified teachers. " But the money is missing. UNHCR has so far received only 42 per cent of the $ 415 million needed (nearly € 370 million) for the one million refugees hosted by Uganda.

Forgotten, mowed, traumatized, Zainabu, who says she was injured by the government security services during the 2015 protests against the third term of President Pierre Nkurunziza, does not despair of returning to Burundi. Meanwhile, the security of the Nakivale camp worries her a little, there would be infiltrators. Zainabu is not calm, Eric either. He says: "I tried to go to Burundi to look for a travel document. And I was arrested there by someone in police uniform who had built a house in the camp and said he was a refugee. We do not know who is who here anymore. "

Beyond the poor conditions of life and the lack of attention, the infiltration is, according to several testimonies on the spot, one of the biggest threats which weigh on the heads of Burundians of Nakivale. This is all the more serious as their exile may last longer, because the dialogue supposed to end the crisis has just ended in a fishtail. The opposition came to the talks in Arusha, Tanzania. But she was alone.


At AMAHORO INTERNATIONAL (AMI), we recognize the importance of the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement and it’s most recognizable and charismatic leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He, together with other leaders, including African visioneers like Kwame Nkrumah, (first president of the post colonial country of Ghana), have shaped the vision of a free society without the stigma of race, exploitation and inequality. These leaders and movements have laid the moral foundation for AMI, as our advocacy for the down trodden and powerless in Africa has been heavily influenced by the desire of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to give a voice to those who have no voice.

As we celebrate MLK day, we joyfully announce that AMAHORO INTERNATIONAL is now fully functioning as an independent nonprofit association with its own 501(c) 3 tax-exempt status. We thank ACT International, our former umbrella organization, for their faithful partnership over many years. Our refugee community project AMAHORO LIFE CENTER (ALC) in Uganda is increasing in scope and effectiveness. We celebrate the recent sales of 600 chickens, pointing to the near prospect of self sustainability for ALC.  For more information and to become a regular contributor and/or monthly supporter of AMI, please visit amahorointernational.net