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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

EiE Crisis Spotlight: Burundi

Location of Crisis

Main zones of return (Bururi, Makamba, Rutana, Ruyigi and Karusi); Musasa, Gasorwe and Bwagiriza camps and lately the Kavumu camp, as well as the provinces of Citiboke and Marie of Bujumbura where an influx of Congolese asylum seekers and refugees are arriving.

Timing of Crisis

Burundi is emerging from more than forty years of conflict and civil war. However, the BBC states peace remains fragile and Burundi is still struggling to develop economically. In effect, UNHCR  highlighted in 2012 that after the presidential election in 2010, the socio-political environment remained precarious. These are the conditions that the Burundian nationals are facing when they return. According to UNHCR, since 2002 more than 550,000 former refugees have returned to Burundi, a country of just over 8mio. The last Burundian refugee camp in Tanzania was officially closed in December 2012. Most recently in August 2013, more than 21,000 Burundians have been expelled from Tanzania. More than 56% of them are children and adolescents. Furthermore, since June 2012, there has been an increase in the flow of refugees and asylum seekers from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Affected Populations

According to the BBC, the civil war which raged in Burundi from 1993 related to ethnic violence largely between Hutu and Tutsi groups saw a total of 300,000 people killed as consequence and according to other sources further 550,000 citizens displaced. According to UNHCR, since 2002 about 550,477 returnees went back to Burundi.  Burundi, a fragile and overpopulated country with a very young population (46% of the population are 14 years and younger), has had to reintegrate 10% of its population returning from exile in neighbouring countries since the signing of the peace accord in 2005.

Burundian refugees returning home by track convoy.
According to UNICEF , between 2002 and September 2008, more than 450,000 persons had already been repatriated with the highest number (77,970) in 2008 alone. This has led to an increased pressure on land and related conflicts. The main areas of return are Makamba, Bururi, Rutana, Muyinga, and Ruyigi, with the latter two provinces hosting large numbers of Congolese refugees at the same time. Muyinga province, where Kinama refugee camp is located, has received over 89,000 returnees since 2002. Ruyigi province, which is hosting 8,335 Congolese refugees in Bwagiriza camp, hosts nearly 85,000 Burundian returnees. Musasa refugee camp is located in Ngozi, where nearly 14,000 Burundians have returned to. With the closure of Mtabila camp in Tanzania at the end of December 2012, the number of Burundian returnees has again increased by around 35,000.  According to UNHCR, by July 2013, 36,283 Burundians nationals have returned and an increasing influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo are arriving to the country.

Furthermore, 78’900 persons who have been displaced inside the country are in need of sustainable solutions. According to a 2012 Norwegian Refugee Council and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Global Overview , by the end of 2012, internally displaced persons were living in around 120 settlements, mainly in northern and central Burundi. The majority were ethnic Tutsis displaced by inter-communal violence following the 1993 coup and the subsequent fighting between the government forces and non-state armed groups.

Finally, UNHCR stated that by January 2013 there were 5,230 asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In July 2013 alone, 762 Congolese asylum-seekers were registered in Burundi, bringing the total number of asylum-seekers registered during the first seven months of this year to 6,782. According to the UNHCR, between the 16th and 21st of August 2013, 1,211 new asylum seekers were registered. Amongst this population of concern 64% is less than 17 years old. A majority are female head of households.

Brief Description of the Situation

Burundi is emerging from more than forty years of conflict and civil war related to ethnic violence largely between Hutu and Tutsi groups. A series of ceasefire agreements since 2001 finally brought peace in 2005, marked by national elections and the endorsement of the new constitution by 90% of the 3.3 million Burundians registered to vote. However, eight years after the peace agreement that put an end to the 12- year civil war, peace in Burundi remains fragile. While the return of refugees can be seen as an indicator of successful peace building, this process has seen its fair share of challenges. 

Burundian youth in the RET responsible Citizens project in the Lycee Rugari in Muyinga. Photo: RET
Although Burundi has made efforts to take another step towards stabilisation and development, the situation during and after the 2010 elections has been faced with many problems. The political impotence of large parts of the population following the boycott of the elections by many opposition parties led to violence in some provinces.

The refugee population is hosted by a Burundian community that itself has only emerged from years of conflict. The re-establishment of peace has led to massive voluntary repatriation movements.

The voluntary repatriation programme for Burundian refugees began in 2002, but increased with the onset of greater stability brought about by the ceasefire and successful elections. According to RET, repatriation brings its own problems, particularly in areas of high return: lack of housing and infrastructure; lack of livelihood opportunities; psycho-social consequences of long-term refugee status; language issues for children and youth who have grown up outside the home country; reluctance of home communities to absorb returnees.

According to UNHCR, concerning the Congolese refugees, after fleeing civil war in their country, those living in the camps across Burundi find themselves living next to members of ethnic groups they consider their enemies. This situation brings about a number of challenges and presents a source for renewed conflict in the camps due to the renewed outbreak of conflict in Eastern DRC and continued influx of refugees.

RET highlights that in Burundi, as in all other countries emerging from war situations, it is youth who are most closely associated with the risk of renewed conflict. Young people are more susceptible to manipulation by political or ethnic propaganda, especially if they feel marginalised and oftentimes do not have the skills and knowledge that allow them to make critical judgments when faced with multiple politicised messages. Youth affected by displacement are particularly at risk as they often do not feel part of society and are living on the margins opting to join gangs operating outside the law but offering them with more lucrative livelihood opportunities.

Impact on Education

According to UNICEF  and RET, the reintegration of the 1972 refugees represents another challenge considering the disruption of family ties, the landless status of about 30 per cent of these refugees and the new languages children born in the United Republic of Tanzania would have to learn. These returns are also putting pressure on social services and infrastructures, such as education, water and land, and need to be addressed urgently to avoid social tensions and ensure early reintegration.

According to RET, in Burundi, the post-primary sector remained under-funded, overcrowded and with poor teaching quality. Transition rates were below 35% and it was clear that with no or little external support, Burundian schools would be unable to accommodate returning students. For young returnees who did return to Burundi the lack of educational opportunities served to limit their reintegration into economic and civil society. The Burundian secondary school system, after decades of civil war, is not ready to guarantee access to all due to limited learning spaces and teaching personnel as well as the low quality of learning, which encourages drop-out in favour of income generating activities. Returning refugee youth have been facing additional challenges since they grew up in a different socio-linguistic context with a different curriculum.

Children in a school in Burundi.
A RET  impact study also highlights other difficulties which young returnees have to face including poverty, leading to families’ inability to pay for their children’s education-related costs (uniforms, books, etc.); lack of school certificates showing their level of educational attainment in exile which prevented them from being admitted to Burundian schools; unfamiliarity with the language of instruction (language instruction not only helps young people in their achievements at school but also in attaining a sense of belonging and shared common identity); and the need to catch up with subjects that were missing from the curriculum in Tanzania.

Marc Sommers, in his Discussion Paper “Adolescents and Violence: Lessons from Burundi”, states that the language issue arose most prominently with Burundian refugees who had recently returned from Tanzania. Furthermore, Sommers states that an education official with the Burundian government noted that the arrival of refugee students into schools negatively impacted the learning environments in schools they attended and the educational quality goes down in the areas where there are refugee returnees.” This exemplifies negative attitudes or reluctance to accommodate returnee students into school, thus it represents a further challenge for students themselves.

According to Refugee International, the enrolment rate for returnee girls is lower than that for other girls. The agency states also that some children and youngsters among the returnees are dropping out of school to join the rebel military group National Liberation Front (FNL) in order to access demobilization benefits.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies  underlines that returnee children are missing out on their education. This is attributed to lack of registration for children in school, difficulty experienced by children reintegrating due to their age, and the low level awareness of the right to education.

Finally, concerning the Congolese refugees, secondary schools also lack qualified teachers, which significantly increases teacher-student ratios and thereby negatively impacts the quality of education. Secondary schools in the camps therefore fail to meet the educational needs of all adolescents and youth. Without adequate complementary non-formal educational opportunities, large proportions of the camp youth population thus risk staying idle and become disillusioned and unproductive members of society. The host communities face problems similar to those of the refugees, including no or limited access to land and insufficient basic services, such as education.

Education Actors Responding to the Crisis

Needs and Challenges

UNHCR  states that an estimated 38,000 people, both refugees and asylum-seekers, will be in need of protection and material assistance in Burundi in 2013. Concerning education, the agency highlights that some 5,000 returnee children between 12 and 17 years old are in need of school supplies.

According to RET, there is a lack of educational opportunities for youth in the areas of high return but also the lack of relevance of post-primary education in Burundi. RET also see the necessity of protecting youth through democratic and civic education in the light of the upcoming 2015 elections in Burundi. In order to respond to this situation, RET has been implementing activities in four main areas to ensure access to good quality secondary education for all Burundian youth: 1) Teacher training and development of teaching and learning material; 2) Catch-up education with focus on languages; and 3) Life skills training (Responsible Citizenship and Peace Education); and 4) Construction and Rehabilitation of school infrastructure.

Barbara Zeus / IRIN ©
Eager to learn: students of the RET Butezi Learning Centre in Rutana. Makamba.
Furthermore, the organization states that in the Congolese refugee camps the secondary schools fail to meet the educational needs of all adolescents and youth, especially those who missed out school for a longer period. RET has provided refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo with peace education, literacy and computer courses in refugee camps including also young people from the local host communities.

From a gender perspective, RET in its projects in the camps observed that female youth in particular lack basic literacy and numeracy skills and competencies to take their lives into their own hands and become independent. In the Congolese refugees camps, RET remarked that male youth have been found reluctant to share classrooms with female peers due to cultural issues.

Finally, from the sources consulted, it has been observed that there is also a huge need to focus on creating educational opportunities and building a stronger protective environment for children and adolescents. 

Tools and Resources

The following key INEE resources in English and French can be used to support EiE efforts in Burundi.

Key Information Sources

Relevant Websites:



Key Words

Returnees, Refugees, Primary and Secondary Education Access and Quality.



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