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In Burundi, starting again from scratch

By Yves Nijimbere

After fleeing to Tanzania as refugees, a family returns to Burundi to find that coming home is yet another challenge.

NYANZA LAC, Burundi, 17 November 2015 – "I was bored in Nyarugusu Camp. There were no games, no school," says Lutfi, 15, who fled from Burundi to Tanzania recenty with his mother and sister. "I would write letters, sentences and numbers on the walls or on the tents to study."

© UNICEF Burundi/2015/Nijimbere
"I missed my father. He used to tell us a story every night," says Raana, 14, who fled to Tanzania from Burundi with her mother and siblings.

The decision to leave came when Lutfi's parents saw large numbers of people from the capital, Bujumbura, passing near their home carrying luggage.

Lutfi's father, a farmer, stayed behind to look after the house while the family fled.

"At night it was cold, and there was no blanket," he remembers. "I would cry, and my mother would cover me with one of her cloths. Life got harder and harder, and then I got sick. Thankfully, the doctor gave me a cream to help me get better."

"I missed my father. He used to tell us a story every night," says Raana, 14, Lutfi's sister. "The food wasn't good, and within a month, I had diarrhea. I would get up at dawn to go get water, and after, I'd come back to sweep the tent and wash the utensils. My brothers would go fetch firewood, and when they came back, I'd begin cooking. By afternoon, I'd be exhausted."

Lutfi, Raana and their family are among the more than 200,000 Burundians who fled the country since April because of insecurity sparked by a political crisis. A small number of them, including Lutfi’s family, have decided to come back.

Fear and intimidation

One morning in the camp, the family woke at 4 a.m. in the cold. Lutfi, Raana, their mother Zaib, the other children and some neighbors from the camp walked for more than three hours. “Then I heard an engine from far away,” Lutfi says. “It was a truck, and the driver took us on board. At dawn he left us on the roadside.”

© UNICEF Burundi/2015/Nijimbere
A small handmade ball lays in the courtyard of a house in Nyanza Lac, Burundi. Widespread poverty means many residents find it difficult to buy toys for their children.

Like many other families in migration, Lutfi’s family took trails through forests to avoid being detected.

“I was scared in the forest,” he says. “My mother was carrying my little sister on her shoulder, and I had the pots and pans that we got at the camp. I was afraid I’d be bitten by a snake.”

After another long walk, they arrived at the border and crossed a river. But the frightening experience continued.

“When we got to Burundi, we met some youth that began being threatening to us,” Zaib says. “‘Where are you coming from? Why did you come back?’ Those are the questions they were asking us. Then they demanded money, but we didn’t have a single coin. They took everything we had: our bedsheets, our pots and pans, our lamps and the soap they gave us at the camp. Thankfully, I had hidden two lamps in my daughter’s clothes.”

Selling everything

Like many Burundians who make the difficult decision to flee, Lutfi’s family took the calculated risk of selling their valuables to pay for transportation.

© UNICEF Burundi/2015/Nijimbere
Raana's brother Lutfi, 15, wrote on walls and tents in Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania to make sure he didn't forget his school lessons.

Having taken these risks, the situation for those who decide to come back is often worse than before.

“My mother hasn’t found work yet – she is looking for somewhere to farm and earn some money,” Raana shares quietly. “Before leaving, my parents sold our bed and mattress. We’re starting again from zero.”

Despite their increased poverty and the continued insecurity reigning in the country, the family is trying to reestablish a somewhat normal life. Lutfi and Raana are back in school and thinking about their future.

“I’m happy to be back in school,” says Lutfi. “I want to become a third-grade teacher later on in life, so that I can teach children.”

“Even if I stayed back, I don’t mind, because what’s important is that I learn,” Raana says.


In support of children and women in Burundi and Tanzania, UNICEF is coordinating with partners to track movements of Burundian children and families on the move and ensuring that they are safe and cared for through protection services, health care, nutrition supplies and emergency cholera response.



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