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The Refugee Crisis

Over 380,0004 refugees from Burundi reside in nine camps administered by unhcr in Tanzania, close to the country's border with Burundi. Most are members of the Hutu ethnic group who fled to Tanzania between 1993 and 1996 to escape the civil war which erupted in Burundi following the murder of Melchior Ndadaye, the country's first democratically-elected Hutu president, in December 1993.5 In Burundi's continuing civil war, both government troops and insurgent Hutu opposition groups have slaughtered unarmed civilians and carried out other egregious human rights violations. When Maj. Pierre Buyoya, a former President of Burundi, seized power from a paralyzed civilian government in a July 1996 coup, he claimed that he was seeking to stop the bloodshed that began three years earlier with the murder of Ndadaye. Since the coup, however, the Burundian army and armed Tutsi political groups have engaged in massive violations of human rights against the civilian Hutu population. The coup also triggered country-wide violence in which insurgent Hutu opposition groups have attacked Tutsis.

Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the conflict sparked by President Ndadaye's murder, and hundreds of thousands fled to Tanzania or other neighboring countries. The massive influx of refugees in the past six years from Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has generated anti-refugee sentiment among Tanzanians: increasingly, refugees are viewed by many Tanzanians as a threat to security and a drain on the country's limited resources.6 At the time this report goes to press, however, Burundian refugees continue to stream into Tanzania. Armed attacks by the Burundian army and rebel forces have intensified since the last quarter of 1999, resulting in the destruction of homes and property and massive forced displacement of civilians. According to Refugees International, a U.S.-based nongovernmental advocacy group, over 21,000Burundian refugees arrived in Tanzania during December 1999.7 The outflow of Burundian refugees has continued through the first quarter of 2000 at the rate of

approximately 5,000 refugees per week.8 This influx of refugees is further straining Tanzanian government resources. There are ongoing diplomatic initiatives, led since October 1999 by former South African President Nelson Mandela, who took over chairing the Burundi peace talks from the late former President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere,9 to negotiate an end to the war and to restore a multi-party democracy, but these have had little effect as yet in stopping the war.

The Refugee Camps

Most of the ethnic Hutu Burundian refugees in Tanzania live in nine refugee camps overseen by unhcr in the Ngara and Kigoma sub-regions of western Tanzania: Lukole A and B, in the Ngara area, which accommodate approximately 90,000 refugees; Mtendeli, Kanembwa, Karago, and Nduta, in the Kibondo area of the Kigoma sub-region, where there are approximately 170,000 refugees; and Muyovosi and Mtabila in the Kasulu area, which accommodate a further 90,000 Burundians.10 In December 1999, the Tanzanian government established Karago camp in response to an increase in the influx of Burundian refugees in the last quarter of 1999.11 As of January 2000, the Karago camp housed approximately 30,000 Burundian refugees.12

Camps in the Kigoma sub-region are located near the towns of Kigoma, Kasulu, and Kibondo, which lie in a remote and underdeveloped area close to Tanzania's border with Burundi. It is difficult to travel between these camps as roads are barely passable, and there are few social amenities, no infrastructure, and no basic services in the Kigoma and Ngara regions-presenting an environment that is extremely difficult for humanitarian aid workers and refugees alike to endure. While conditions in the camps are poor, the camps are considered byunhcr to be at a "care and maintenance" rather than at an "emergency" stage because all basic services are operational.13

As of November 1999, there were approximately eight local and international ngos working with refugees in the Tanzanian camps. Among the international ngos were the IRC, Dutch Relief Agency, Norwegian People's Aid, Christian Outreach, Care International, and Caritas International. These ngos are all unhcr implementing partners, and they provide health or other social and community services to refugees. Among the local ngos working with refugees in the camps were the Diocese of Western Tanganyika and UMATI, an organization that conducts research on health issues and provides health services to refugees. Each organization is responsible for providing specific services in a designated camp. Each camp has a unhcr protection officer, who is responsible for overseeing all security and protection duties including assisting refugees who are victims of crime with legal advice on how to pursue their cases in court14 and a unhcr community services officer who is responsible for designing and running community services programs, such as education, income generation projects, and counseling services for refugees.15 The community services officers are supposed to work in collaboration with staff of unhcr's implementing partners in running programs for refugees. There is also a field officer for each camp who, among other things, oversees the camp management, allocates newly arrived refugees with places to live, and distributes plastic sheeting, food, and other supplies.16

The Tanzanian government has also placed its own representatives in the camps. These include police, magistrate, and camp commanders. The camp commanders are representatives of MHA and are responsible for overseeing the administration and enforcement of Tanzanian law and policies in the camps.17 Human Rights Watch, however, found little clarity among Tanzanian authorities and unhcr staff concerning who bears responsibility for responding to sexual and other gender-based violence. Neither police, magistrates, nor camp commandersheld routine meetings with unhcr officers to discuss and establish a clear procedure for referring cases of domestic violence reported to them.18 As a result, often cases were circulated from person to person with little effect and leaving the victim confused or discouraged from further reporting or pursuing their cases in court.19

To improve camp management and administration, unhcr and MHA camp commanders have organized the camps into blocks, streets, and plots. In each camp, there are block and street leaders, who are appointed by members of their block on a yearly basis, with unhcr and MHA camp commanders assisting in organizing the elections. Refugees are also organized into security committees, or sungu-sungus, comprised mostly of young men and a few women recruited by unhcr to patrol the camps.20 The block and street leaders as well as the sungu-sungus are the key interlocutors between refugees and camp officials. The block and street leaders, together with a network of community elders recognized as abashingatahe,21 are sources of consultation on various problems among refugees in the camps, including domestic violence disputes. Very few women are elected to positions of leadership however, as block or street leaders, or abashingatahe.22 To address this problem, unhcr and humanitarian organizations involved in working with refugees in the camps are organizing committees of refugee women'srepresentatives to involve women in programs and positions of leadership in the camps.

Women's Unequal Status in Burundian Society

As was made clear in Human Rights Watch interviews with Burundian community leaders, including women leaders, as well as unhcr officials and others, women are traditionally accorded inferior status to men in Burundi. This is also reflected in the camps, exacerbating women's vulnerability to sexual and domestic violence. In Burundian society, women are traditionally considered to be dependents of their male relatives and subordinate to men, who are seen as the natural heads of their households. Most women interviewed by Human Rights Watch received little or no education, had never been employed outside the home, and were totally dependent on their husbands for economic and other support. Most decisions within the family are taken by men, including how the family's resources are to be used, whether children are to attend school, whether and when their wives can leave the home, and when marital sex is to occur. One Burundian refugee woman summed up the situation to Human Rights Watch: "A wife is just like a child in Burundi. She is not supposed to question her husband's decisions."23

Responsibilities within the family are also divided firmly according to gender roles. Thus, women are exclusively responsible for child care, obtaining and preparing the family's food, and upkeep of the home. Men, on the other hand, are responsible for building the home, providing the family's income, and deciding how that income is used.

The inferior status of women in Burundian society means that it is generally accepted that they may be physically punished by their husbands when they are considered to have done wrong and that they have no means of redress against such punishment. Some Burundian women and men criticized this in their discussions with Human Rights Watch-but many others sought to justify it as an aspect of Burundian "culture." Men tended to see this violence as the husband's right as head of the household to provide guidance for the family.

Most of the refugee women interviewed by Human Rights Watch had originated from rural areas of Burundi, a largely agricultural society. They said that, even when subjected to severe domestic violence, women almost never complained to the police but, instead, sought redress through the abashingatahe, who could tell their husbands to stop beating them and to give them money or clothas compensation. In addition, when they were in Burundi, women said that they had first sought assistance from other members of their family, or from friends, neighbors, religious leaders, or community elders, when they had been faced with domestic violence.24 Involving the police or judicial authorities, they said, would be done only as a very last resort and, anyway, was often not a practical option due to distance from the nearest police station and the difficulties of travel.25 Also, seeking the intervention of such official judicial structures would be perceived as bringing shame upon the family and cause a woman to be ostracized, exposing her to the possibility of further violence by her husband. Women told Human Rights Watch that they generally sought to avoid situations that could result in domestic violence, staying at home when their husbands were home, always asking permission when they wished to go somewhere, preparing meals on time, and consenting to sex when their husbands demanded.

Not surprisingly, many of these same attitudes and practices of subordination are also prevalent in the Burundian refugee camps in Tanzania. Here too, women are exclusively responsible for collecting firewood, maintaining the home, and providing child care. Many men, likewise, continue to consider women as their subordinates and show no sign of wishing for or seeing a need to change.

This type of social and economic context is one in which sexual and domestic violence tends to flourish, exacerbated by the particular stresses to which both men and women are exposed in becoming refugees and being required to live in special camps. Despite the efforts of unhcr, the Tanzanian authorities, and humanitarian organizations, refugees in the camps in Tanzania are subjected to conditions of deprivation, shortages of material resources, cramped conditions, enforced idleness, and poverty leading to drunkenness and other social dysfunction, including high levels of violence against women.

4 UNHCR figures as of September 1999.

5 For a more in-depth analysis of the civil war, see Human Rights Watch, Proxy Targets: Civilians in War in Burundi (New York: Human Rights Watch, March 1998).

6 For a detailed analysis of Tanzania's policy shift toward refugees, see Human Rights Watch, "In the Name of Security: Forced Round-Ups of Refugees in Tanzania," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 11, no. 4, July 1999.

7 Refugees International, Tanzanian Camps Now Strained Beyond Capacity (Washington, DC: Refugees International, January 21, 2000).

8 Ibid.

9 Former President Julias Nyerere died in October 13, 1999.

10 unhcr figures as of February 2000.

11 Human Rights Watch interview, Judith Mtawali, Director of Refugees, MHA, Tanzania, November 16, 1999. Also see Refugees International, Tanzanian Camps Now Strained Beyond Capacity (Washington, DC, Refugees International, January 21, 2000).

12 unhcr figures as of January 2000.

13 The term "care and maintenance" is used by unhcr to refer to camps that have passed from the emergency phase of unhcr operations to one of normal camp management.

14 Human Rights Watch interview, UNHCR protection officers, Kasulu, Kibondo, and Ngara, Tanzania, October and November 1999.

15 Human Rights Watch interview, UNHCR community services officers, Kasulu, Kibondo, and Ngara, Tanzania, October and November 1999.

16 Human Rights Watch interview, UNHCR field officers, Kasulu, Kibondo, and Ngara, Tanzania, October and November 1999.

17 Human Rights Watch interview, camp commanders, Kasulu, Kibondo, and Ngara, October and November 1999.

18 Human Rights Watch interviews, camp commander, Kasulu, Tanzania, October 23, 1999; protection officer, Kibondo, Tanzania, November 8, 1999; and police officers, Kibondo, Tanzania, November 6, 1999.

19 Human Rights Watch interviews, refugee women representatives, Mtabila 1 and 2, Kanembwa, Mtendeli, and Nduta camps; refugee crisis intervention team, Lukole A and B camps, Tanzania, October and November 1999.

20 Sungu-sungus are provided an incentive of 10,500 Tanzanian shillings (U.S.$13.00) a month. In November 1999 the exchange rate was 800 Tanzanian shillings to one U.S. dollar.

21 In Burundi, abashingatahe are Burundian men who have gained community respect and recognition as leaders. In Burundi, they serve the community by mediating disputes arising among neighbors, family, and other relations. Basically, this institution is entirely male, with the only exception to include female refugees created as a result of pressure from UNHCR. In the Tanzanian refugee camps, the abashingatahe are Burundian male refugees, with a few women, who preside over cases and disputes arising in the camps. The section below on "Responses by unhcr" has more information on the function and powers of the abashingatahe in a refugee context.

22 Human Rights Watch interview, women representatives, Kasulu and Kibondo camps, Tanzania, October and November 1999.

23 Human Rights Interview, refugee woman representative, Mtabila 1 camp, Tanzania, November 2, 1999.

24 Ibid.

25 Human Rights Watch interviews, refugee women representatives, Mtabila 1 and 2, Kanembwa, Mtendeli, and Nduta camps; and refugee crisis intervention team, Lukole A and B camps, Tanzania, October and November 1999. Also see section on "Responses by unhcr" for details on the mediation and counseling roles of community leaders in Burundi as adapted to the refugee camps and in Burundi.

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