Burundian Refugees in Urban Centres Wary of Uncertainty


Burundian Refugees in Urban Centres Wary of Uncertainty

The New Times, 03 Jul 2015

The uncertainty regarding the length of the political stalemate back home is gnawing on the minds of desperate Burundian refugees in Rwanda’s urban centres.

Those who opted to fend for themselves in urban centres are under pressure to spend less, thanks to strains on their financial resources. The possibility of finding gainful employment is slim and they dread the thought of joining thousands who are now currently living in refugee camps.

By yesterday morning, the UNHCR camp at the Red Cross head office in Kacyiru, Kigali, had registered more than 8,000 Burundians, but 9,000 more had appointments for later registration, Philip Kibui, a UNHCR registration officer, told The New Times.

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MidImar) says by Wednesday evening, the total number of Burundian refugees registered in the country was 50,119.

Protais Sagituma, 51, who fled to Rwanda on July 13, said he is worried he cannot sustain his stay in the city since the cost of living in Rwanda, compared to his native Burundi “is very high.”

“Exchanging FBU100,000 only gets you Rwf30,000 and that amount cannot push days here. In Burundi, you can live for two weeks on that same amount but it is tough here, considering accommodation, food and other basics,” the father of four said.

The registration of Burundian refugees who prefer to stay in Rwanda’s urban areas started mid last month.

Sagituma and three others are renting two rooms in Kigali, each paying Rwf5,000 per day, and eating once a day, as they wait for other members of their families to join them. His wish is that peace returns to Burundi but he remains pessimistic considering the reports he is getting from his country. The only solution he sees is for politicians in government and opposition camps reaching a middle ground for the sake of the nation.

“The way I see it right now, peace in Burundi is as far away as the moon,” Sagituma says. “It will take a long time to get peace.”

Pastor Oscar Rusimbi, 55, from Mutakura, Bujumbura, and his wife and four grown-up children were also in Kacyiru yesterday for registration.

The pastor’s family has had to divide itself into three groups that are now staying with three different family friends. The family, that used to live together, is now separated as his wife lives in Gikondo, the children in Kimironko, while the father is in Kanombe.

“It is tough. Whenever my children have an issue or my wife has concerns, they call me and I move to see them,” Rusimbi said. “Survival is not easy really and that’s why we came here to register so that in case of incidents, say, illness, we can be helped by aid agencies,” he says

The man of God, however, is optimistic and trusts that by God’s grace, they will eventually reign supreme.

A businesswoman who preferred anonymity for fear that revealing her identity could endanger relatives back home, told The New Times that lack of freedom of expression in her country was a real concern.

The mother of one, who is co-sharing a “tiny affordable house” with two other families in Nyamata, Bugesera District, said they pool resources to share almost everything.

Three families, she said, are living in a two-bedroom rental of Rwf60,000. All together, they have eight children who sleep cramped together in the living area, while the parents take the two bedrooms, with the men taking one and the women another.

“Our resources are really not enough but we came hoping that the situation would end soon. We thought the international community would help return peace to our country but it is clear that some are gradually heading to the refugee camps after they run out of money,” she said. “No one really prepared a budget anticipating this situation. Life is difficult.”

As they despair, hundreds of their countrymen continue fleeing the restive country ahead of the presidential elections mid this month.