Urban refugees struggle to cope with cost of living in Burundi

News Stories, 16 October 2008

© UNHCR/B.Ntwari
Hard Sell: Vendors in Bujumbura's central market.

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, October 16 (UNHCR) Life is getting tougher and tougher for Burundi's 12,000 urban refugees and asylum seekers. Amid rising prices and dwindling opportunities to make money, hundreds of refugees have left the capital, Bujumbura, over the past two years and moved to refugee camps where they can get assistance and free schooling for their children.

Monique,* a dynamic young Congolese woman, is among the refugees who have been feeling the pinch in recent months. She ekes out a living by selling soap powder in small plastic bags around Bujumbura's busy central market.

Like other urban refugees she receives hardly any assistance and needs the income to support herself and three younger sisters, who are all still students. The four of them fled to Burundi four years ago to escape fighting in South Kivu province in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is a thankless job buttonholing people at the entrances to the market and trying to persuade them to buy her wares. It's also illegal because she does not have a licence to sell and must play a constant game of cat-and-mouse with patrolling police.

"Ingenuity doesn't work any more. In spite of the generosity of my neighbours, who pay for my sisters' school fees, life is still very expensive and I cannot afford it. I have no husband, no family to help me. If I could get at least food assistance, because life is very hard in Bujumbura," complained Monique.

The UN refugee agency has been helping a small number of urban refugees earn a living during this difficult period. UNHCR is also looking at ways to reduce the drift to countryside camps and to encourage partners to help it better assist the most vulnerable especially women and children like Monique and her sisters who want to stay in Bujumbura.

Refugees cling to life in urban areas for various reasons, ranging from personal or family concerns to the hope of landing a decent job. With these people in mind, Bo Schack, UNHCR's representative in Burundi, said the agency hoped over the next few years to "develop a better support system for the urban communities."

In 2007, UNHCR launched a scheme to help 45 urban refugee families set up small businesses. The agency is also paying some medical costs for urban refugees, with up to 100 percent coverage for the most vulnerable.

UNHCR's is also helping to fund an income generation project run by its partner, Handicap International (France), for urban refugees. Congolese refugee Alphonsine* received seed money of US$200 under this scheme to start a business selling rice to restaurants in the suburb of Jabe.

She makes US$3 per day, which is still not enough to cover all her needs, including rent and school fees for her four children. "I wish I could get additional support," she said, adding: "Prices are continually going up and life is becoming unaffordable."

But she does not want to go to a refugee camp because she needs a special diet and daily medical treatment for HIV Alphonsine fled to Burundi in 2002 after she was raped and infected by militiamen. But while she still faces difficulties, Handicap International praises her success in earning an income and said the results of its project have been good.

UNHCR assists and provides protection to more than 16,000 refugees living in four refugee camps in Burundi. While the agency's assistance to the urban refugees in Burundi is not great, UNHCR would like to help more in the future.

High Commissioner António Guterres told UNHCR's governing body earlier this month that the people the agency must help are increasingly found in urban areas.

"In 1800, only three percent of the world's population lived in cities and towns. This year the proportion will reach 50 percent, and in 2050 it may be as high as 70 percent. As a result of these trends, UNHCR will almost inevitably be obliged to adapt its way of working so as to meet the needs of refugees, returnees, internally displaced and stateless persons who were born or who have taken up residence in an urban area," Guterres said.

* Name changed for protection reasons.

By Bernard Ntwari in Bujumbura, Burundi

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

Donate to this crisis

Livelihoods and Self-Reliance

We help refugees, refugee returnees and internally displaced people tap their potential and build a platform for a better future.

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New OpportunitiesPlay video

Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New Opportunities

UNHCR and partners are training scores of Syrian and Lebanese women in traditional fabric printing – helping to sustain centuries-old techniques and provide livelihoods for refugees and host communities.
Syrian Refugees: An Urban Refugee in Turkey Play video

Syrian Refugees: An Urban Refugee in Turkey

There are more than 650,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey. Some 200,000 are housed in refugee camps along the border, but more than 460,000 live more precarious lives as urban refugees. One of them, Abdul Rahman, lives in the southern city of Urfa. It's been tough but the young man keeps his dreams alive.
Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate
Play video

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

The 2013 winner of UNHCR`s Nansen Refugee Award is Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of Democratic Republic of the Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She has helped over 2000 displaced women and girls who have suffered the most awful kidnapping and abuse, to pick up the pieces of their lives and become re-accepted by their communities.