Asylum system in Burundi established with UNHCR's support

News Stories, 16 April 2009

© UNHCR/A.Kirchhof
A UNHCR refugee status determination specialist (left) trains a staff member of Burundi's new asylum office in interview techniques.

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, April 16 (UNHCR) Burundi, an important host country for refugees over the past four decades, has just established a specialized office for asylum with help from the UN refugee agency. The development comes a year after the country passed its first asylum law.

"The refugee agency welcomes these important steps towards improving refugee protection in Africa's Great Lakes region," said Bo Schack, the UNHCR representative in Burundi. "The government will now be clearly in the driver's seat," he added.

The cabinet approved the creation of the National Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons on April 2 and the new body started interviewing asylum seekers on Tuesday. It will be responsible for the 27,800 refugees and asylum seekers living in camps or urban areas in Burundi.

"The authorities will in the medium term deliver all documents to refugees and asylum seekers themselves. Today, this is still partly in UNHCR's hands," Schack explained. "We also hope that once the new asylum office is fully operational, Burundi's asylum procedure will become quicker."

In its dealings with asylum seekers, Burundi has referred to laws governing the entry and stay of foreigners. Decisions on asylum claims have been made by non-specialists. There is a backlog of some 5,000 cases awaiting a decision, some of them years old, because of the slow pace of processing the applications.

The UN refugee agency had previously supported the government in drafting a new legal framework for dealing with asylum seekers and refugees the country's first asylum law entered into force in 2008. UNHCR then helped set up the National Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons by providing expert advice and guidance as well as office equipment and vehicles.

UNHCR experts in March held a training course for the new office's staff on issues such as refugee status determination, international refugee protection norms, human rights and UNHCR's mandate.

"They are young and motivated, but they do not have any previous experience in refugee status determination," said Periklis Kortsaris, one of the experts who led the week-long course. "We trained them in the refugee definition and basic standards for an asylum procedure. They will now be able to decide on asylum applications in accordance with international standards."

The project has been funded by the European Commission under its Strengthening Protection Capacity Project, which helps non-European Union countries to develop fully functional asylum systems, thereby enhancing the protection of asylum seekers and refugees worldwide.

Most of the refugees and asylum seekers hosted by Burundi come from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. UNHCR has been present in Burundi since the 1960s, helping the government to protect and support refugees.

By Andreas Kirchhof in Bujumbura, Burundi

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Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

Since the end of October more than 26,000 Burundian former refugees have been assisted by UNHCR and its partners to return home from the Mtabila camp in northwest Tanzania. The operation is organized with the Government of Tanzania to help some 35,500 Burundian former refugees go back to Burundi by the end of 2012, when the Mtabila camp officially closes.

Refugee status for most Burundians in Tanzania formally ended in August following individual interviews to assess remaining protection needs. A total of 2,715 people will continue to be hosted as refugees in Tanzania, while the rest, the last of a population of refugees who left Burundi some 20 years ago, must return home. This is not an easy move after having spent most of your life -- and sometimes all of it -- in exile.

While awaiting their turn to join one of the daily convoys to bring them home, Burundian former refugees are preparing themselves for a fresh start…

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

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