Phoenix Home To Thousands Of Refugees

July 03, 2014

(Courtesy of U.S. Department of State)
Map of Burundi

In 2012, Arizona ranked eighth among states accepting refugees, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Since 1985, more than 63,000 refugees have resettled to Arizona. Nicky Walker, a Development Manager for the International Rescue Committee, explained these numbers.

"When you look at affordability of housing, the cost of living and employment opportunities, Phoenix is an ideal location for resettlement," Walker said.

Nearly 1,000 of those refugees are from the African country of Burundi. Following the Hutu-Tutsi civil war of the 1960s, Burundians began to flee the country. Venant Vyamungu was a politician who left Burundi fearing torture from his government. Since resettling in Phoenix, Vyamungu has worked to help other refugees and immigrants through their transition.  

"I advise everybody here especially immigrants not to hate school, and the education is going to be the key of the success," Vyamungu said. "From there, you will have equal access."

Jeanne Nizigiyimana brought her extensive education and expertise when she fled Burundi in 1993. Nizigiyimana holds several undergraduate degrees, speaks six languages and received her Masters of Social Work from Arizona State University. After spending more than a decade as a refugee in Africa, she arrived in this country. She then helped found the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic where she serves as the Program Manager.

"The civic knowledge that I see here, this needs to be spread out," Nizigiyimana said. "And we need to teach some of our African leaders to be true democratic leaders so that one day we can say no to violence."

Both Vyamungu and Nizigiyimana expressed hope that their work in the U.S. will positively impact Burundi, the country they call their motherland.