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BURUNDI: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Burundi does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  Considering the documented impact of the pandemic on the government’s anti-trafficking capacity, the government made key achievements during the reporting period; therefore Burundi was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.  These achievements included the government significantly increasing investigations and prosecutions of suspected trafficking offenses, convicting traffickers for the first time in six years, and referring victims to assistance for the first time in six years.  The government institutionalized anti-trafficking training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judicial officials.  The government developed and implemented the country’s first-ever national data collection system on law enforcement’s efforts to combat human trafficking and trained prosecutors, judicial officials, and law enforcement on its use.  Despite these achievements, the government decreased the number of victims identified.  The government continued to lack standard operating procedures to identify and refer victims to services and did not have adequate protection services available for victims.  The government failed to allocate resources to complete implementation of the 2019-2020 National Action Plan (NAP) through the anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee.

Significantly increase efforts to more effectively investigate, prosecute, and convict sex and labor traffickers.  * Investigate all credible accusations of official complicity and hold complicit officials criminally accountable.  * Develop and implement national standardized procedures to systematically identify and refer trafficking victims to appropriate care.  * Expand protective services for victims through partnerships with NGOs, including by allocating resources and providing separate shelters for children and adults.  * Develop and devote sufficient resources to implement a national action plan to combat trafficking.  * Develop a national level data collection system on victim identification, protection, and referral efforts.  * Implement strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment companies that are consistently enforced, including eliminating recruitment fees charged to migrant workers, and holding fraudulent labor recruiters criminally accountable.  * Finalize and implement bilateral labor negotiations with destination country governments on migrant worker rights.

The government significantly increased law enforcement efforts.  Burundi’s 2014 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking.  The law prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 Burundian francs ($52 to $259), and in cases involving children, the law prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to 2 million Burundian francs ($259 to $1,040).  These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

The government investigated 32 cases involving arrests of 46 suspects during the reporting period, compared to eight cases in the previous reporting period.  The government prosecuted 28 cases during the reporting period, compared to 11 cases during the previous reporting period.  The government convicted three traffickers during the reporting period, compared to zero convictions during the previous six reporting periods.  All three perpetrators were convicted on child trafficking charges; one trafficker was sentenced to seven years in prison and the other two were both sentenced to three years in prison.  Law enforcement reported collaborating with foreign police in Saudi Arabia and Uganda on trafficking cases.  The government increased border security and surveillance to prevent migrants and potential victims crossing to neighboring countries.  Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, potentially inhibiting law enforcement action during the year.  In February 2021, the government collaborated with the Kenyan government to investigate and extradite a Burundian diplomatic official accused of trafficking 89 Burundians.  Observers alleged trafficking networks included officials handling passport and travel documents at the Commissary General of Migration, a division of the Ministry of Interior.  The government also reported collaborating with Saudi Arabian police to investigate suspicious deaths of Burundians.

In January 2021, the government, with technical and financial support from international organizations, developed and began use of the country’s first-ever institutional data collection system on law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking during the reporting period.  The centralized database maintained information compiled from courts, magistrates, and prosecutors from all 18 provinces over the past six years.  The government appointed 54 counter-trafficking focal points to regularly update the system and classify trafficking cases, charges, and potential perpetrators and trained them on this tool, as well as 409 magistrates from higher courts and prosecutor offices.  The government translated the 2014 anti-trafficking law into Kirundi and distributed it to law enforcement, magistrates, and judicial officials in all provinces.

The government’s anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee collaborated with an international organization to provide anti-trafficking training including on the definition of trafficking, the anti-trafficking legal framework, investigating trafficking cases and prosecuting suspected perpetrators, identification and referral to care of potential victims, domestic and international trafficking trends, international approaches to combat human trafficking, and border management and cross-border crimes to 407 local police officers, prosecutors, judges, immigration offices, and law enforcement officials from Bujumbura and seven other provinces.  Although the government trained law enforcement and immigration officials during the reporting period, government officials reported that a lack of awareness on the trafficking law, as well as a misunderstanding of the difference between migrant smuggling and trafficking, impeded successful investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes.  Authorities also reported parents of victims authorized their children to be recruited for work inside and outside the country, creating obstacles for successful convictions.  Observers reported many arrests were not elevated to prosecution because of insufficient evidence, corruption, and interference of high-ranking officials.  Authorities reported the pandemic modestly inhibited the government’s ability to collect evidence and victim testimony during trafficking investigations due to limitations on in-person meetings.

The government maintained mixed protection efforts.  The government continued to lack a centralized system to share victim identification and referral information between government stakeholders.  Despite travel restrictions and closures necessitated by the pandemic that affected anti-trafficking operations and stymied completion of bilateral agreements, the government identified 174 victims during the reporting period; of these 45 were identified abroad—including in China, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Tanzania—compared to 372 identified victims and 314 victims identified abroad, respectively, during the previous reporting period.  Officials identified 101 female victims during a raid of a fraudulent labor company in December 2020.  Of the 174 identified victims, authorities reported identifying 113 victims en route to the Middle East and 16 victims en route to Tanzania.  The government has yet to report identifying a foreign national victim of trafficking domestically.  The government referred all 174 identified victims to government and NGO-run shelters for care and assistance compared to zero victims referred to government and NGO-run shelters during the previous six reporting periods.  Child victims were referred to government and NGO-run shelters and sometimes placed into foster care.  Adult victims had a choice between independent living or referral to shelters run jointly by the government and NGOs.  The government reported offering the option for victims to remain in shelters to ensure their security for specifically sensitive cases.  The government collaborated with foreign governments to repatriate 134 Burundian victims from abroad.  The government provided consular and legal assistance to these Burundian victims, including facilitating the return and reintegration into their home communities and waiving COVID-19 test fees.  In 2020, an international organization and its partners reported identifying an additional 25 victims of human trafficking, six children repatriated from abroad and 17 children identified en route to Tanzania.  All six children were victims of labor exploitation, though some may have also been sex trafficking victims unwilling to disclose.  Separately, another international organization reported identifying an additional 403 child victims, including 361 boys and 42 girls.

In November 2020, immigration authorities, in coordination with the Inter-Ministerial Anti-Trafficking Committee, drafted victim identification procedures for use at points of entry; however, the government continued to lack standard operating procedures for authorities to identify and refer trafficking victims to protection services and many law enforcement officials lacked adequate training to identify potential victims.  Authorities penalized victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.  Observers reported immigration officials arrested children fleeing exploitive situations and police officers detained street children identified as victims and held them in police facilities.  International organizations reported police officers arrested and detained children coerced into street vending without screening for human trafficking.  Observers reported law enforcement detained victims who later became involved in running the trafficking scheme.

Overall, a lack of dedicated funding for victim protection measures and the pandemic restricted the government’s ability to repatriate victims.  The government did not operate any shelters specifically dedicated to victims of trafficking; however, the government continued to operate Humura Center in Gitega, which provided protection services to foreign and domestic victims of sexual abuse, gender-based violence, and trafficking.  The government collaborated with NGOs to provide temporary and long-term shelter, medical care, financial assistance, training for income-generating activities, legal assistance, family reunification, community and school reintegration, and guidance on engaging with law enforcement.  An NGO-run center in Bujumbura offered medical and psycho-social assistance, as well as legal assistance to victims of various abuses, including human trafficking.  The NGO reported victims returned to their families after a short stay at the shelter.  There were four additional NGO-run shelters that trafficking victims could utilize; all NGOs operated with little to no funding from the government.  Adults, children, and foreign victims all had access to the same care.  The government offered limited assistance for victims, including allowing victims to enter the country without paying for COVID-19 tests or fees for quarantine.  Although the government’s financial restraints limited assistance to NGOs during the pandemic, it implemented cost-saving measures for NGOs, such as lowering soap prices and water tariffs.

In accordance with the 2016 law for the protection of witnesses, victims, and the vulnerable, which outlined provisions for the protection of witnesses and victims, the government provided witness protection to 123 women and children during the reporting period, compared to zero witnesses protected during the previous reporting period.  The government reported it placed victims in guarded secure locations; protected minors’ identities in investigations and prosecutions; prohibited the media’s use of victims’ identities, utilizing written statements in lieu of in-person testimony; and closed all trials to the public for sexual exploitation cases or when cases involved a minor.  Labor laws continued to lack sufficient protection for domestic workers or employees in the informal economy, leaving the population vulnerable to trafficking.  Burundian law allowed prosecutors to request restitution in trafficking cases; however, the government did not report any court cases ordering restitution for victims.  The law provided foreign trafficking victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, subject to judicial decision, and allowed the government to grant temporary residency; the government did not report identifying any foreign victims who could benefit from this protection during the reporting period.

The government minimally increased prevention efforts.  The anti-trafficking committee led the government’s policy coordination and communication with civil society, but its ability to drive national anti-trafficking efforts continued to be limited by resource constraints.  The government did not fund the committee and subsequently, the committee operated on a volunteer-basis; it convened every four months.  The government had yet to establish the Commission for Consultation and Monitoring on the Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking in Persons, mandated by the 2014 anti-trafficking act, which would take leadership over government efforts on prosecution, prevention, and protection.  Despite limited funding; land, air, and water border closures due to the pandemic; a pause in government activities due to presidential elections from May-June 2020; and a flood displacing thousands; the government, with financial support from international donors, continued implementing the NAP.  Although the NAP expired in October 2020, the government reported continuing to implement it through the end of the reporting period.  The government continued partnership with an international organization to implement a three-year national anti-trafficking program.  The government consulted with international donors and civil society organizations to monitor trafficking trends in the region for a semi-annual publication to inform future anti-trafficking measures and trends.  The government conducted awareness raising campaigns in three border provinces and disseminated information on labor regulations and safe migration processes; it provided assistance resources to migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor.  A government agency also organized four regional awareness raising workshops focused on national and international instruments relating to combating trafficking in persons for more than 120 administrative, police, judicial, civil society officials, religious authorities, and other leaders from each of the country’s provinces.  Law enforcement operated a 24-hour hotline for potential victims of crime, including victims of human trafficking, though the government did not report whether the line received any calls related to suspected trafficking cases.  Additionally, the government hosted a hotline for victims of human rights violations, including trafficking in persons.  Hotlines accommodated Kirundi, French, and Kiswahili speakers and the government advertised the toll-free numbers via media outlets, billboards, and during government workshops and training sessions.

In December 2020, the Council of Ministers announced recommendations to prosecute labor recruitment agencies complicit in human trafficking; the government did not report prosecuting such agencies during the reporting period.  In January 2021, the Ministry of Labor suspended all labor recruitment agencies until further notice in an effort to protect citizens from traffickers; however, such an approach may have increased vulnerability to trafficking for intending migrant workers by eliminating formal recruitment channels.  The government did not have effective policies or laws regulating labor recruiters.  In January 2021, the General Immigration Authority requested commercial airlines operating in Burundi stop accepting Burundian passengers traveling to all Gulf countries until further notice in an effort to protect potential victims from traffickers; at the end of the reporting period, the government reported travelers needed special authorization in order to take flight, though these limitations may have increased travel via irregular channels as well as vulnerability to trafficking.  The government reported contacting the Saudi Arabian government in an effort to increase the rights of Burundian migrant workers.  Moreover, the government reported initiating bilateral labor agreements with Oman and Saudi Arabia; however, no formal agreements were finalized during the reporting period due to pandemic-related restricted travel.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts; however, the government reported limited financial and technical resources as a challenge to make significant efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

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 December 2020, more than 312,000 Burundians remained in neighboring countries as refugees, including but not limited to Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  Throughout 2020, an international organization continued the repatriation of 41,000 Burundian refugees, some of whom returned without identity documents or formal assistance, increasing their vulnerabilities to trafficking.  An international organization reported refugees spontaneously return to Burundi without formal assistance and without adequate identity documentation, which significantly increases their vulnerability to trafficking.  Refugees, particularly single mothers, frequently lack access to basic services, food, money, and permanent accommodation, which increases their vulnerability to trafficking.  In April 2020, Burundi experienced severe flooding that displaced more than 35,000 people; many were placed in IDP camps and did not have access to income-generating activities, increasing their vulnerability to traffickers.  Observers reported traffickers increased activity due to the government’s attention on the natural disaster.  Observers reported an increase in fraudulent offers to work abroad.  International organizations reported the pandemic’s closure of land, water, and air borders restricted trade and seasonal migration for Burundians and refugees alike, limiting economic growth and increasing their vulnerability to traffickers.  Observers reported young boys and girls found work as peddlers, domestic workers, wait-staff, or construction laborers and were forced to work excessive hours, denied payment, and were sexually and physically abused; government and NGOs reported sexual exploitation of young girls from refugee and IDP camps is common as men from host communities promise gifts, pocket money, and tuition funds in exchange for sex.  International organizations report DRC refugees are exploited in Burundi refugee camps.

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 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 and 2020, an international organization reported separating four and 10 Burundian children, respectively, from armed groups in the DRC; the international organization reported children received assistance and were repatriated to their home countries.

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, charcoal production, manufacturing, construction, cattle herding, street vending, begging, and in the fishing industry.  Traffickers operate as networks in order to provide successful transnational coordination and include victims’ relatives, neighbors, and friends, who recruit them under false pretenses to exploit them in forced labor and sex trafficking.  Traffickers increased recruitment of Burundians working in Tanzania and the DRC.  Recruiters recruited victims from their hometowns and were paid commissions upon successful recruitment; recruiters often were Burundians, but handlers, guides, and receiving personnel have been foreigners.  Some families are complicit in the exploitation of children and adults with disabilities, accepting payment from traffickers who run forced street begging operations.  International organizations report cases of parents lying about their children’s age to meet minimum age employment laws or to receive compensation for offering their children to forced labor.  Traffickers fraudulently recruit children from rural areas and those separated or unaccompanied from parents 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.  Observers report traffickers recruit Burundian refugees in Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC for sexual exploitation and forced labor.  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.  NGOs reported a significant number of children disappearing in border provinces suggesting traffickers recruited children to forced labor in cattle herding in Tanzania.  NGOs reported recruiters from neighboring countries frequently visit border towns in search of Burundian child workers.  Women and girls traveling to the Middle East, and often to 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.  Observers allege 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 Burundian girls.

International organizations report the Batwa minority, Burundians living in border provinces, and women- specifically young and Muslim- were particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking.  Traffickers fraudulently recruit some young adult Burundian women for jobs, but instead subject them to forced labor and sex trafficking in China, Kenya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Yemen.  Observers report that victims transit through Kenya and Tanzania for short-term stays before reaching their final destination.  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.

U.S. Department of State

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