Uganda: Burundian refugees concerned for their safety
21 October 2011

JRS Urban Programme centre where, as well as receiving emergency support, refugees get an opportunity to share their concerns with staff, Kampala, Uganda (Peter Balleis SJ/ JRS)
Asylum seekers are mostly left to fend for themselves, as JRS is the only organisation in Kampala offering them material assistance. ..., explained JRS Uganda Urban Programme Director, Stephen Kuteesa.
Kampala, 21 October 2011 – Refugees from Burundi are concerned for their safety, citing the effects of increasing violence and corruption at home and a challenging asylum process in Uganda as the main sources of insecurity in their lives.

Although newly-arrived asylum seekers of all nationalities face a variety of issues in Kampala, the Burundian community feels especially vulnerable in light of recent violence in their home nation.

Many Burundian asylum seekers and refugees told JRS they fled the small African nation due to persecution as members of the opposition group, the National Liberation Forces (FNL). Now, they say, they live in fear of the national security services whose members they believe may also be operating in Uganda.

Since the beginning of 2011, the JRS Urban Programme in Kampala has seen a remarkable increase in refugees fleeing from Burundi. Some refugees report feeling insecurity due to the presence of Burundian intelligence forces both at home and in Kampala. Others point to a shooting in late September in a bar near the capital of Bujumbura in which more than 40 persons were killed, and worry the situation at home will have implications for their lives abroad.

Moreover, JRS has learned that access to governmental assistance in refugee camps has been tightened for Burundian asylum seekers. They have been told they must first wait for their refugee status to be determined – a process which can easily take six months or more – before receiving any assistance.

"During this period, the asylum seekers are mostly left to fend for themselves, as JRS is the only organisation in Kampala offering them material assistance. Many struggle to survive and are homeless. We are monitoring these events with great concern", explained JRS Uganda Urban Programme Director, Stephen Kuteesa.

"These incidents are not only a danger to Burundi itself, but can easily spread tension in the whole region. Especially in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, which are still recovering from decades of instability", added Mr Kuteesa.

In light of escalating concerns of the Burundian community in Uganda, JRS will continue to support these newly-arrived asylum seekers and refugees with material and pastoral assistance and advocate for the introduction of measures to help them become independent.

Post-election instability

The most recent streak of conflict in Burundi began with the political events of 2010. After former president Pierre Nkurunziza of the Hutu-dominated CNDD party won elections that year, Agathon Rwasa, the leader of another Hutu-dominated party, FNL (a former rebel movement as well as Nkurunziza's CNDD), alleged fraud and fled to the bush with supporters.

Since then FNL party supporters and associates allege they are being subjected to persecution, extrajudicial killings, torture, unlawful imprisonment and kidnapping by the ruling party and the government. In response, the Burundian government has accused opposition parties of causing instability. However, the government has not accepted the causes of instability are political, as more and more observers have suggested, and has attributed the violence and killings to common criminality.

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James Stapleton
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