As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Burundi, and traffickers exploit victims from Burundi abroad. As the result of a complex political, economic, and security crisis that began in 2015, by February 2020, more than 336,650 Burundians remained in neighboring countries as refugees, including, but not limited to, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2019, the Government of Tanzania told refugees within its borders, a majority Burundian-born, to return home and commenced an operation with the goal of repatriating some 200,000 Burundian refugees despite concerns that they faced a lack of protection and security. Many refugees, in fear of illegal arrests, deportation, and murder, departed Tanzania without formal assistance or adequate identity documentation. Returned refugees frequently lacked access to basic services and accommodation, which subsequently increased their vulnerability to trafficking.
Burundi’s challenging security environment, endemic poverty, and low education levels create an opportunity for criminals, including traffickers, to take advantage of Burundians in precarious or desperate situations. Due to regional instability, observers sporadically report recruitment of children as young as 15 years old by armed groups who force them to participate in anti-government activities. In July 2015, traffickers recruited approximately 58 children, some younger than 15 years old, and forced them to participate in an anti-government armed invasion in Kayanza Province, which was ultimately put down by the government; it was unclear if these children were armed. Between May and December 2015, an international organization reported allegations that Burundian refugees residing in Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda were recruited into non-state armed groups, allegedly by Rwandan security forces, to support the Burundian opposition; many refugees alleged recruiters had threatened, intimidated, harassed, and physically assaulted those who refused recruitment—a form of human trafficking. Most of these recruits were adult males, but six Burundian refugee children between the ages of 15 and 17 were also identified as recruits from Mahama refugee camp. The same international organization reported that hundreds of Burundian adult and child recruits, including girls, were allegedly trained in weaponry at a training camp in southwestern Rwanda—some may have been trafficking victims. In 2016, the Government of the DRC apprehended 16 Burundian children transiting through the east allegedly after recruitment from refugee camps in Rwanda or the DRC to participate in armed conflict in Burundi with an unknown entity. In 2018, an international organization reported separating four Burundian children from armed groups in the DRC.
Both economic necessity and coercion push children and young adults into labor, including domestic service, forced labor on plantations or small farms throughout Burundi, in gold mines in several provinces around the country, in informal commerce in the streets of larger cities, in charcoal production, and in the fishing industry. Traffickers include victims’ relatives, neighbors, and friends, who recruit them under false pretenses to exploit them in forced labor and sex trafficking. Some families are complicit in the exploitation of children and adults with disabilities, accepting payment from traffickers who run forced street begging operations. Traffickers fraudulently recruit children from rural areas for forced labor for domestic service and sex trafficking in private homes, guesthouses, and entertainment establishments; the children frequently experience non-payment of wages and verbal and physical abuse. NGOs report that fishermen exploit some boys in the Lake Tanganyika fisheries in forced labor and some girls and young women in domestic servitude and sex trafficking in restaurants and bars around the lake. Traffickers exploit Burundian adults and children in forced labor in agricultural work, particularly in Tanzania. Women and girls traveling to the Middle East, and often through Tanzania, for domestic service report abusive labor conditions as well as physical and sexual abuse. Young women take vulnerable girls into their homes, eventually pushing some into commercial sex to pay for living expenses. Traffickers exploit orphaned girls, often using underage males as facilitators. There were unsubstantiated allegations that male tourists from East Africa and the Middle East, as well as Burundian government employees, including teachers, police officers, military, and prison officials, are complicit in child sex trafficking by procuring underage Burundian girls.
International organizations continue to report that young Muslim women from Burundi are particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking in Gulf countries. Traffickers fraudulently recruit some young adult Burundian women for jobs, but instead subject them to forced labor and sex trafficking in various Gulf countries, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar. NGOs estimate that between 500 and 3,000 young women became trafficking victims in these countries between 2015 and 2016, and one NGO reported over 800 young women remain in these countries. In 2017, Burundian and Kenyan recruitment agencies fraudulently recruited several adult Burundian women, who were identified in Kuwait, for work as domestic workers and receptionists; however, upon arrival, traffickers subjected them to forced labor and confiscated their passports, the victims were paid less than what was agreed, had restricted movement, and were forced to work excessive hours without breaks.