Ahead of International Day of Peace, 21 September, fear and conflict are returning to Burundi, warns migration expert Dr. Sonja Fransen. Her research shows that conflict and forced migration have long-term effects — effects that trickle down to post-war generations.
The International Day of Peace, 21 September, was pushed through the 1981 UN General Assembly with a view to “strengthening ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples”. Yet now, in 2015, the prospects for world peace have rarely looked so bleak. A recent study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies shows that the number of casualties of war rose dramatically between 2008 and 2014. And in a 2011 estimate, the World Bank said one in four people around the world – more than 1.5 billion – live in fragile or conflict-affected states. This number will have grown since then due to recent crises in Iraq and Syria.
Many countries in Africa are also ‘on the edge’. Burundi is a small and densely populated country in the African Great Lakes Region, bordering Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For decades Burundi was engulfed in civil conflict, which finally came to a halt in the early 2000s. Yet violence has surged again after the Burundi president announced his candidacy for a third term in office. The country has since plunged deeper with daily protests and violence, and with the memory of past conflicts fresh in their minds, many Burundians have sought refuge in neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Our migration research group has studied in-depth the consequences of the 1993-2000 Burundi conflict, using data collected in 2011 and 2015. Although the studies look at past conflicts in the country, they provide insights into the potential effects of a new outbreak of violence.
The first, recently presented paper looks at the long-term impacts of conflict and forced displacement experiences during Burundi’s civil war in the 1990s, focusing on the post-war generation (individuals of school age during the war and their children). In this paper we show that, in line with previous research, both conflict and forced migration experiences during school age years have had significant, negative impacts on the educational outcomes of those who were school aged during the conflict. Moreover, these effects are transmitted to the next generation as well. We find that children who have at least one caregiver who experienced conflict during the 1993-2000 war have significantly lower educational outcomes than other children. These findings show that the effects of conflict and forced migration experiences can be long-term and even trickle down to the next, post-war generation.
In a second paper, forthcoming in Population, Space and Place, we focus on the sustainability of refugee return in Burundi. Almost 600,000 former refugees returned to Burundi between 2002 and 2014, mainly from neighbouring Tanzania. In a context of poverty, population pressure and land scarcity, most returnees moved to their origin communities – some after spending more than 30 years abroad. The Burundi case became internationally known as a major success because most returnees were repatriated ‘in safety and with dignity’ (the main principles underlying the repatriation activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). Yet we found evidence that questions the sustainability of refugee return to Burundi. Returnees represented a large share of the population in rural Burundi: nearly 9% of interviewees were either first- or second-generation returnees (i.e. those born abroad to refugee parents). Return was very concentrated: most return migrants resided in communities in the southern provinces bordering Tanzania. Here, some communities consisted of 30 or 40% returnees.
Our research found many returnees living in really poor conditions – far worse off than households that had not been forced to flee the country. Most return households had food problems on a weekly basis, were less satisfied with their economic situation, and said that their economic situation had worsened over the previous years. Return households were also less likely to own agricultural land. This is cause for concern, as agricultural land is one of the most important assets in rural Burundi and crucial for survival for many households. We also found that return migration had not only affected returning households but other households in the communities as well. In communities where more returnees resided, all households had lower living conditions and economic prospects.
The costs of the new political, economic and human crisis presently unfolding in Burundi are likely to be high. History has shown that conflict has disastrous consequences for development. According to our findings, the effects of conflict last long after the actual conflict ends and even trickles down to next generations and other communities.
The research discussed in this blog is part of The Labour Market Impacts of Forced Migration project, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) for the benefit of developing countries, and the Migration and Development: A World in Motion project funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are those of the author only.
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