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At least three international aid groups have pulled out of the African nation of Burundi. This, after the government ordered foreign aid agencies in Burundi to suspend their work until they provide information about the ethnicities of their employees. Ethnic tension in Burundi led to a brutal civil war between Hutus and Tutsis that started in 1993. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports that some aid groups have balked at the new ethnic reporting requirements.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Last fall, the head of Burundi's National Security Council went on television and declared that foreign aid agencies were operating illegally in Burundi. Roughly 130 groups were ordered to suspend their operations and reapply for permission to operate in the country. According to the government, as of January 1, 84 agencies have done so. Humanity and Inclusion, which used to be known as Handicap International, is not one of them.
DOMINIQUE DELVIGNE: We were clearly told that if we do not share the ethnic origin of all our employees then we are not allowed to start again our operations.
BEAUBIEN: Dominique Delvigne oversees HI's operations in Burundi from the group's headquarters in Brussels. Burundi is demanding that HI and all other international aid agencies commit to having 60 percent of their local employees be Hutus and 40 percent Tutsis. Government officials say the move is an effort to make sure that Hutus get access to what are considered good-paying jobs at the charities. To comply with the ethnic quotas, foreign aid groups must provide the government with a list identifying each employee by their ethnicity.
DELVIGNE: We never ask the staff to share their ethnic origin, and we do not want to do it in this current context.
BEAUBIEN: There are concerns that these new registration requirements are part of an attempt by the Hutu-led government to control every segment of society.
TERRY: It's very important to remember that the government in Burundi has been using ethnicity anytime it's cornered.
BEAUBIEN: This is a Burundian named Terry, who now lives in the United States. He wants to only use his first name because of concern about retaliation against family members who are still in Burundi. Terry says it's disturbing to see the government asking NGOs to officially document who's a Hutu and who's a Tutsi.
TERRY: It could be used to track people. It could be used to intimidate people. Or it can be used to kill or identify people to be killed who are considered opponents.
BEAUBIEN: Amnesty International says this isn't an unreasonable fear. The human rights group says Burundian security forces routinely kill, abduct, torture and detain people. Despite a 2005 peace accord, tensions remain high in Burundi. The economy is in a tailspin. In 2015, the president defied term limits and won a controversial third term. Last year, Burundi quit the International Criminal Court and ejected the BBC and VOA. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled out of the country over the last three years.
Officials didn't respond to NPR's requests for comment, but in announcing the new policy, a spokesman for the president accused foreign NGOs of not only ethnic bias in hiring but also of attempting to destabilize Burundi. In addition to HI, two other Belgian NGOs have announced that they're leaving. Dozens of others are still negotiating with the government. Agencies running hospitals and schools have been allowed to continue their operations, but all other groups had to re-register.
HI is now in the process of laying off its staff of 105 local employees after 26 years in Burundi, shutting down its operations entirely. Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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