Burundi has been a country in conflict for much of the time between 1962, when it gained independence from Belgium, and the mid 1990s. Like its neighbor Rwanda, Burundi’s conflicts are mostly between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups.
Between 2006 and 2010 more than 8,000 Burundian refugees were moved from camps in Tanzania to the United States. Many of these mostly Hutu people fled Burundi in 1972 during an ethnic conflict led by the Tutsi government during which between 90,000 and 250,000 people are estimated to have been killed. More fled to refugee camps after the newly elected Hutu President was killed in 1993, leading to a 12-year civil war that killed more than 300,000 people. (See U.S. Committee For Refugees and Immigrants, “An Introduction To the 1972 Burundian Refugees.”)
According to Freedom House's "Freedom in the World 2013" report, Burundi is “partly free” and is the most corrupt country in East Africa.
Rape was used as a tool during civil conflicts, and domestic violence continues to be a problem in Burundi, which now leads to some asylum claims in the United States.
Most refugees from Burundi are Hutu who enter the U.S. as refugees after living in camps in neighboring African countries. Burundian communities in the U.S. include Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, Decatur, and Salt Lake City. Other Burundians enter the United States in some other status and then apply for asylum.
Asylum claims are usually filed by women who are victims of domestic violence or rape. Although rape and spousal abuse are prohibited, the law is not well enforced. The State Department Country Reports for Burundi, 2013, note that 3,781 cases of gender-based violence were reported in 2010 (the most recent year in which statistics were compiled), and that 52.8% of new rape victims were under the age of 13, and 14.8% under age five.
The most common type of asylum claim made by citizens of Burundi who have arrived in the U.S. is based on domestic violence.
Immigration judges and asylum officers may decide that a victim of domestic violence can safely return to Burundi because the government is working with NGOs to educate and raise awareness of gender-based violence and to train police on these issues.
Additionally, judges and officers sometimes deny asylum because the applicant did not create or adequately describe a viable "social group" to which he or she belonged. Asylum applicants who are victims of gender-based violence must convince a judge of officer that the persecution occurred on account of their membership in a particular social group.
The social group must have an immutable characteristic that identifies the applicant to the rest of the community, such as “women in Burundi who are married to police officers” or “women in Burundi who have no family support.” Importantly, the persecution must be perpetrated on account of membership in the group.
It is important not to formulate a group based on the persecution itself. An example of a social group that will not pass muster with a judge or officer could be “women in Burundi who are victims of domestic violence.”
Rape and other severe sexual harm are violations of fundamental human rights and should always be considered persecution. See USCIS's officer training on this matter. Be prepared to explain to the judge or officer that the law in this area is long established.
After convincing the judge or officer that you have experienced persecution in the past, the burden shifts to the U.S. government to prove that you would be safe if you returned to Burundi. To counter the government's arguments, be prepared to submit reports and articles explaining why, in practicality, you would not be safe if you returned home.
If you have suffered severe persecution, you should be granted asylum despite any positive changes in Burundi. (See Matter of Chen, 20 I&N Dec 16 (BIA 1989).)
It is a good idea to consult with an immigration lawyer who specializes in asylum and refugee work to help you craft a solid social group description and prepare your application.