I Know the Consequences of War: Understanding the dynamics of displacement in Burundi

(7 December 2016) Today, the International Refugee Rights Initiative launched a new report, “I Know the Consequences of War: Understanding the dynamics of displacement in Burundi”. The report brings much needed insight as to how Burundians are deciding to flee or stay in a context in which more than 300,000 are already in exile. The report has not only direct bearing on the potential to resolve displacement in and from Burundi, but also enables the international community to gain a better understanding of the causes of exile that can be applied in other contexts.

Based on 117 interviews with those who have fled to Tanzania, those who fled and have returned, those displaced internally and those who stayed put, one of the key findings was that individuals’ previous experiences had influenced their assessment of risk. For many, their previous experience of conflict was an incentive to flee early, before the situation reached its worst “I had seen such things since my childhood, so how could I wait? I know the consequences of war.” For others, painful memories of previous rounds of displacement influenced their decision to stay “[t]hey would rather opt for suicide or death on the spot rather than returning into exile.”

The report highlights the complex decision making process individuals go through, and the wide range of factors that are taken into account, when trying to decide whether or not to flee. In the case of Burundi,
some fled because they felt directly targeted, others expressed fear of repressive violence from the police or the imbonerakure, andmany, fuelled by widespread rumours and past experience, feared the
political crisis would degenerate into full scale civil war. “Despite the government Burundi’s attempt to characterise those who have fled as ‘trouble makers’ or opposition, our research shows that it is never as clear cut as that,” says Andie Lambe, Executive Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative. “Individuals are making difficult decisions and may end living with the consequences of those decisions for a very long time.”

The report also highlights how the failures of previous rounds of repatriation have affected the decision to flee. Many expressed disappointment in what they saw as the broken promises of past return efforts which left them feeling both economically and politically marginalised and thus more vulnerable to (re)displacement. There was also much disillusionment with the political class, both government
and opposition, in the words of one man, “all politicians are liars.”

On a positive note, most of those interviewed expressed a strong desire for dialogue – as opposed to violence – as a means to resolving the situation. People want a negotiated political solution, even if few had faith in existing mechanisms to bring that about.


Read the full report.

For more information, please contact Andie Lambe at +256 (0) 751 799 627