Just north of Lake Tanganyika in east Africa is the beautiful Republic of Burundi. And deep in the hills are the famous gorillas at play. Sounds wonderful . . . .
With a GDP per capita of US$267, the country’s 10.16 million people are among the poorest in the world. But despite this situation, the people are friendly, open-hearted and play a unique style music. The main two communities are Tutsi and Hutu and, despite their poor history, including the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, they can be warm, loving and very caring.
A power-sharing agreement between the Tutsi’s and Hutu’s led to the signing of a new constitution in 2005, and to the election of President Pierre Nkurunziza. However, Burundi has seen escalating violence since Nkurunziza violated the constitution and won an illegal third term of office in 2015. Over 500,000 Tutsi’s and others have since escaped the country to neighbouring Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, Kenya and Tanzania. Some have even fled to Australia. This exodus is partly because of the new genocide imposed on the minorities by the ruling junta.
Here in Australia the Burundi refugees live in an atmosphere of intimidation as militia from Burundi come to our country to threaten those seeking sanctuary.
“I have witnessed these wicked actions in both Brisbane and Perth” said Mr Pacifique Ndayisaba, one of the respected Tutsi leaders. “When someone approaches you with a camera saying ‘I’ve got your picture and we know who your family is back in Burundi’, that is very scary” he added.
It is interesting to note that the Australian government has allowed the opening of a Burundian Consulate in Perth while warning Australians not to visit that country because of the inherent violence there.
“There is a double standard here” said Philip Feinstein of the Music for Refugees organisation. “I personally spoke to the consulate, Australian Barry Court, who commented on the safety of travel to Burundi despite warnings on our DFAT website” he added. “I believe he is putting Australian lives at risk.” This new consulate is located in a Perth church run by Barry Court’s wife, Margaret Court, our former tennis hero.
Early in November Music for Refugees ran a fundraising evening at the St Stephen’s Church in Sydney for the benefit of over 30,000 Burundian refugees currently residing in a very poor camp called Nakivale in southern Uganda.
“Having visited the camp I saw first-hand the squaller and impoverished conditions that these people are living in” said Feinstein. “They have no water, very little medical assistance and zero education for their kids. The list goes on” he implored.
With a greeting of ”Amahora – Welcome” to the 200 guests, the dire messages on the night were interspersed with beautiful African music and dancing. Even the Aussie audience got involved.
“It was wonderful to see Australians open their hearts as we collected over $7,000 on the night” said a jubilant Pacifique Ndayisaba. “But we also need to focus on the current catastrophe as the Tanzanian government is forcing refugees back to Burundi to a very uncertain future. We are hoping that Australians report to their political leaders about this upcoming genocide” he said.
The audience on the night left with heavy hearts knowing just how tragic the situation is for those Burundian refugees.