Background

  • Burundian refugees fled from the ethnic conflict between the ruling, minority Tutsis and the majority population, the Hutu. Most refugees are of  Hutu ethnicity.
  • Burundi has experienced civil problems since they were granted independence from Belgium in 1962.
  • In 1972, 200,000 were killed in the violence and 150,000 fled to Rwanda, The Republic of Congo, and Tanzania.
  • In 1993, due to the assassination of the first Hutu President, 500,000 more fled the country.
  • 1972 Burundian refugees living in Rwanda later fled to Tanzania after the outbreak of genocide in Rwanda, also between the Hutu and the Tutsi.
  • The majority of Burundian refugees now live in Tanzania, in one of three different refugee camps: Ngara in the north, Kibondo in the country’s central region, and Kasulu in the south.
  • Many Burundians have spent most, if not their entire lives in exile. If they were to return, many no longer know where their family’s land is, and much of the land owned by those who were forced to flee has been repossessed by the government.
  • Tanzania has increasingly limited the Burundian refugees’ rights to freedom of movement, employment and the right to own property, making it necessary for them to seek resettlement elsewhere.
  • The United States government is hoping to re-settle 2,000 to 3,000 Burundians in 2007 and another 4,000 to 5,000 in 2008/2009.

Language, Religion, Traditional Practices

  • The official languages of Burundi are Kirundi and French. All 1972 Burundians, including those who have spent their entire lives outside of Burundi, speak and understand Kirundi, and many have picked up Kiswahili from living in Tanzania.
  • 40% of Burundian refugees have had no schooling, and 20% are illiterate.
  • The majority of refugees are Christian. Most are Protestant, and about 20% are Catholic. A small percent of the 1972 Burundians are Muslim.
  • Households are made up of only the nuclear family, although extended family ties are often very important.
  •  Burundian society is traditionally patriarchal in nature. Men farm while women carry the work load of the home. However, life in refugee camps has allowed exposed some women to more training and higher education than is traditional. Women do not appear to be restricted socially from working outside the home.
  • Traditional medicine is sometimes practiced, especially when modern medicine is unaffordable. Deaths are sometimes attributed to witchcraft.

Adjusting to America

  •  Most refugees will not have had much experience with modern amenities, such as public transportation and modern appliances. They will need to understand the importance of paying bills on time and maintaining regular work and school attendance.
  •  Most have worked in agriculture or as pastoralists, with few professionals. For many refugees, the experience of continuous employment outside the home will be a new one.
  • Although most refugee children attend free primary schools in the camps, the schools are poorly equipped, the teaching is less than ideal, and the class size is very large. Girls start dropping out when they reach higher grades.
  • Special needs and concerns may include separated children, the elderly, victims of sexual violence, young mothers, and family reunification
  • Most refugees receive no remittance from relatives living at home or abroad, and live on United Nations’ rations and small trading.
  • In the camp, there is a high rate of malaria and some refugees exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Before the refugees leave for the United States, they will have had an intensive three to five day orientation to help familiarize them with life in America, modern amenities, and air travel.

Further Reading
1972 Burundians Backgrounder
Mtabila Refugee Camp