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Decommissioning Burundi’s IDP Camps: A Story of Hope

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IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has successfully decommissioned four internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Burundi: Cashi, Gitaza, Mushasha I and Mushasha II. The four camps have been home to 5,022 people – including over 4,000 women and children – who were victims of natural disasters, including landslides and floods, that greatly impacted parts of western Burundi in 2015 and 2016. The decommissioning process began in January 2018 to improve the living conditions of IDPs in these displacement camps.

When flash floods swept her home away, Julienne, a mother of eight was among those displaced to Gitaza camp where she lived for two years. “We were in very poor conditions, in torn down tents as small as bird nests. With eight children, it was very tough,” she explains.

The natural disasters not only forced people to seek shelter in the camps, but also to abandon their initial source of livelihoods such as agriculture, commerce and other income-generating activities. They were robbed of their means to support their families, leading to widespread food insecurity and eventually, malnutrition. IDPs learned to adapt to their new lives to the best of their ability, despite the difficulties of the living conditions inside the camps.

“This place caused a lot of diseases, particularly amongst children. There was a lot of malaria, diarrhea, and lack of hygiene because of many people living together. It was very difficult,” says Julienne.

Although the camps were initially established as temporary solutions for the region’s displaced populations, budgetary constraints and various external challenges caused them to remain active well beyond the intended sixmonth duration. The tents quickly became tattered as they bore the brunt of Burundi’s harsh weather, including torrential rain and wind. The deterioration of the tents left families exposed and contributed to the spread of diseases within the camps.

With the support of the Swedish government, in collaboration with the Government of Burundi and humanitarian actors, more than 5,000 of Burundi’s most vulnerable IDPs are receiving shelter support, aid packages, transportation and reintegration assistance – providing them not only with a roof over their heads but more importantly, giving them hope for a better tomorrow.

Julienne could not hide her joy at having a new home. “I am now excited to have a house, a room for children, a room where I can relax and a room for guests. I was no longer able to host visitors as there was no room for them,” explains Julienne. “We are now very grateful that we are going to have enough space, a toilet for each household and enough security.”

A palpable sense of delight could be felt at the ceremony held to mark the end of the camp decommissioning process. “I am so grateful and joy overflows my heart and I feel exceeding peace to see this work happening,” said Julienne.