Gatumba – It is a bright day in Gatumba, a village in western Burundi, situated on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fatouma* unlocks the blue door of her small shop where she is selling a diverse range of colorful items in a packed stall along the main road.
“I don’t have to worry about food anymore; my family is proud of me,” she says with a smile.
It was not always this way. Fatouma is among the vulnerable people who have been displaced by last year’s destructive floods. She is also among those who have received support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“I’m not making a lot of profit yet, but my sales are increasing, and I have hope that it will keep improving.”
When she came back from Saudi Arabia in early 2021, Fatouma thought she could finally find some relief, after having endured months of exploitation and gender-based violence from her employer. However, once back, her husband left her and their three children. She could hardly afford to feed them anymore, while the floods left her with no house, goods, and land to cultivate.
An estimated 90 percent of internal displaced people in Burundi are on the move due to climate-related disasters.
Soon after, Fatouma was forced to move with her children to an emergency shelter for displaced people in Gatumba, in Bujumbura province, where they sought refuge together with thousands of others.
Her story echoes that of many other women’s, including Therese*’s, another victim of human trafficking who discovered that her house had been destroyed by the rising waters of Lake Tanganyika.
“It was like I was cursed for the second time.”
Therese*, a single mother of three, was also forced to move to the site in Gatumba. Her husband abandoned her a few years ago, and with nowhere to turn, she accepted a job in Saudi Arabia, hoping to make enough money to be able to provide for her children.
The lack of access to basic services and assistance (water, sanitation and hygiene, shelter, education, and health), and job opportunities, makes internally displaced persons (IDPs) more vulnerable to exploitation. Nearly 55 per cent of IDPs in Burundi are women.
Offering women the opportunity to be independent is key in reducing the risks they are facing.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is not only providing shelter and non-food items to IDPs but is also working closely with leaders of displaced communities by building their capacity to identify and refer those most vulnerable to abuse, violence, and exploitation.
IOM provides psychosocial first aid and tailored assistance, such as training, business kits, and coaching. The aim is to empower vulnerable IDPs, so that they are able to provide for their families through income generating activities.
“A social worker listened to me, my story, my needs, and gave me the chance to share all my problems. I hadn’t been able to do that before and my heart was heavy.”
Like Therese and Fatouma, half of the victims of trafficking assisted by IOM have experienced some form of gender-based violence (GBV). Nearly 80 per cent of victims of trafficking assisted by IOM are women and girls.
According to the Burundi Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO 2022), more than 310,000 people are exposed to protection risks and in need of assistance tailored to their specific needs Notably, 64 per cent of them have been affected by GBV. To tackle these challenges, IOM is mainstreaming protection assistance across all its sectors of intervention.
Therese came up with a business idea that would not only benefit her but also her community. “In my neighbourhood, most people don’t have access to electricity, so I wanted to start a business charging phones and other electronic items. It’s working well now and I am able to save money.”
Therese is even developing other business activities on the side and has hired her first employee. “I’m very happy that I am able to manage my own businesses. All my children are going to school, and have clothes, shoes, and food.”
*Names have been changed.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an opportunity to recall that supporting women’s path to recovery and empowerment after facing violence is rooted in IOM’s programming in Burundi.
IOM’s protection activities in Burundi are implemented thanks to the support of the Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), the Federal Republic of Germany (GFFO), the United States' Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Kingdom of the Netherlands and USAID.