International Unitarian Universalism

Update from Burundi Unitarians (at home and in exile)

By Eric Cherry

Rev. Fulgence Ndagijamana, Minister of the Unitarian Church of Burundi, has distributed this important update via the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU)

Dear friends, colleagues, partners and global UU family,

It has been a while since we last sent out to you an update about the situation of Burundi Unitarians and how things stand in Burundi and in different countries that host our Unitarian refugees.

Let me start by saying that the situation in Burundi has not improved as people continue to be jailed especially those who are suspected of not supporting the status quo in the country. People continue to go missing and as usual, only the prominent ones are talked about, like the recent disappearance of journalist Jean Bigirimana, allegedly in the hands of the secret services agents who arrested him – his whereabouts are not known ever since. But the daily laborers, those working small tasks and paid per day, if accused of collaborating with the enemy, they might be killed or disappear and no one will talk about them, except their loved ones and families who voices are not loud enough.

The calls for peaceful talks between the government and the opposition have not been answered as the government party to the negotiation insists on having a say over who gets invited or not. As a result, the 2 opposed parties have not been able to meet face to face. All the facilitator has been able to do is to meet them separately, and now 9 months have passed since the talks were launched in Uganda in December 2015. We can be pleased with that first step but much more needs to happen for peace to prevail.

Compared to when it started in April 2015, the situation is quieter now. But it may be the quiet time that precedes the storm. The regime has a private militia, trained and armed with an ideology of hatred and reminds all of us of a similar group in Rwanda in 1994. With foreign aid suspension, the country’s economy is at the edge of collapse and the living conditions are deteriorating by the day.

Unitarians in Bujumbura are holding up despite the difficult situation. There is still 1 young adult member in prison. He was arrested in June 2015 while visiting his parents in an Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp where they have been living since 1993. He has never appeared before a judge. During all the appointments, there was either a document missing or someone was not available. He is stuck in an overcrowded prison in the central part of Burundi.

Worship services have been regularly held since the attack that happened to the church and the arrest of the Minister. The church President and the deacon ably took matters in their hands and organized the church and insured the premises were secured and our property is relatively protected.

The fear is still real as anything can happen anytime. The church was and is still a place where they meet to comfort one another.

Outside Burundi, Unitarian refugees are in Kenya and Rwanda, Belgium, USA and Canada.

Unitarians in exile in Kigali, Rwanda: They were 12 people in the house. They were able to do some English classes. 2 of them were selected for University scholarships by Maison Shalom led by Miss Maggy Barankitse and options are being explored for 2 additional students to go to University in Rwanda as well.

At the end of August, all the people in the shelters were encouraged to go live on their own. The goal is to encourage them to get integrated in the host community and think about self-development ways in the forms of training and largely networking with other refugees but also the host community.

Thanks to a generous grant from the UU funding panel, we were able to provide a grant to each of the residents of the shelters and this grant will keep them going during the transition time. The same was done to people living in Nairobi except for one of them who has a sponsor who supports him.

The ones living outside East Africa have some specifics, here are the information about them;

Blaise Ntakarutimana is in USA and had his asylum application granted, in a relatively short time. What a relief! He now can think about his family and what the future (hopefully near) holds for the 4 of them!

Richard Nduwayezu in in Brussels and still going through the immigration process as well. He misses his daughter and his aging mother and yes his brothers.

Fulgence Ndagijimana is in Canada and is doing an internship with the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon, beginning a Clinical and Pastoral Education (CPE) and completing other requirements for fellowship with the UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee.

The situation in Burundi is still fragile and of very much concern. We would like to thank all of you for having being on our side from the beginning of this crisis. Without the knowledge and the feeling that we are part of a global active and caring family, our world would be a different and gloomy one.

Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana

Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana at the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon

About the Author

Eric Cherry

Eric was the Director of the UUA’s International Office since August 2007. Prior to this Eric served for 12 years as a parish minister with UU congregations in Burlington, Iowa and N. Easton, Massachusetts. Eric has long been involved in the UU Partner Church movement, serving as the English...


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