As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Burundi and traffickers exploit Burundian victims abroad. Burundi continued to be a source country for victims who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, both within the country and in destinations in East Africa, particularly Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, which can be final destinations or often serve as transit points to Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, and Kuwait. Observers reported most traffickers now use land and public transport to leave Burundi and then fly from the neighboring countries to destination countries. As the result of a complex political, economic, and security crisis that began in 2015, by March 2022, more than 259,376 Burundians remained in neighboring countries as refugees, including but not limited to Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Throughout 2021, an international organization continued the voluntary returns and repatriation of more than 60,000 Burundian refugees, some of whom returned without formal assistance, increasing their vulnerabilities to trafficking. Returning refugees are generally required to live within camps until reintegration into their communities and have limited access to education and livelihood opportunities. An international organization reported some refugees spontaneously return to Burundi without formal assistance and without adequate identity documentation, which significantly increases their vulnerability to trafficking. IDPs and returning refugees, particularly single mothers and widows, frequently lack access to basic services, food, money, and permanent accommodation, which increases their vulnerability to trafficking. Observers reported returning refugees have insufficient assistance upon arrival and most do not have families to support them or homes to return to, which increases vulnerability to exploitation.
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-related 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.
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 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.
The government and an international organization reported traffickers have changed their transportation methods, due to increased vigilance at Bujumbura’s international airport. Observers noted traffickers now opted for transportation by land, usually by buses that serve the region, and then fly from neighboring countries. Additionally, the government reported traffickers are increasingly using unofficial border crossings to transit to neighboring 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 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. Traffickers 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. The government reported orphans are particularly at risk of trafficking for forced labor in Burundi and in neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. 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 for forced labor. Traffickers fraudulently recruit children from rural areas and those separated from or unaccompanied by parents for forced labor in 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. Observers alleged 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.
International organizations report the Batwa minority, Burundians living in border provinces, and women—specifically young and Muslim women— are particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. Traffickers fraudulently recruit young women from poverty-stricken rural communities, particularly border provinces such as Cankuzo, Cibitoke, Kayanza, Kirundo, and Muyinga, for work in the Middle East, Tanzania, or Kenya as domestic servants, and victims may be subjected to abusive labor conditions and physical and sexual abuse. Traffickers fraudulently recruit some young adult Burundian women for jobs, but instead subject them to forced labor and sex trafficking in the People’s Republic of China, Kenya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Yemen. Observers report victims transit through Kenya and Tanzania for short-term stays before reaching their final destination. Observers noted Burundian nationals were trafficking victims in Nigeria. 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, paid them less than what was agreed, restricted their movement, and forced them to work excessive hours without breaks.