The resettlement of some 8,500 Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1972 began last week with the arrival of the first group of 88 refugees in the United States. Another 3,000 refugees are expected to leave the Kibondo refugee camp in western Tanzania and arrive in the U.S. in coming weeks, after stopovers in Nairobi, Kenya. All told the U.S. has agreed to resettle 3,000 refugees in 2007 and an additional 5,500 by 2009. The IRC is one of ten agencies that are resettling the Burundians in U.S. cities.
The first three families, 12 people in all, arrived in Atlanta last Wednesday, said Ellen Beattie, the International Rescue Committee resettlement director in Atlanta. More of the refugees are expected in Abilene, Boise and Phoenix this week, Beattie said. By the end of June, IRC resettlement offices in Salt Lake City, Seattle, Dallas, Boston, Tucson, Silver Spring and New York will begin processing the refugees.
The "1972 Burundians" represent one of the oldest and most protracted refugee problems in the world. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians, primarily of Hutu ethnicity, fled their country in that year to escape ethnic violence which killed an estimated 200,000 people. Most of the refugees have been displaced several times since then, fleeing from Congo and Rwanda to Tanzania. According to UNHCR, the refugees can neither safely return to Burundi nor settle permanently in Tanzania.
The IRC's Beattie said integrating the Burundians will be challenging as they are primarily agricultural subsistence farmers with little education and few skills. "We have prepared an intensive step by step orientation designed to show them everything they need to know," Beattie said. "The refugees I talked to after they arrived are very excited to be here."