While most of the bickering over immigration stems from U.S/Mexico border issues, people from all over the world, not just Mexico, immigrate to the Land of Enchantment.
The Association of Burundian Americans in New Mexico was founded a year ago to help make life easier for immigrants and refugees of Burundian descent trying to make a new life here.
“There’s a large concentration coming from sub-Saharan Africa, which would be the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania,” said Rev. Trey Hammond, the minister at La Mesa Presbyterian Church.
On June 4, the organization celebrated its first birthday.
“Yesterday was great,” Hammond said. “There was dancing and music and food and speeches and this real recognition that they’re here. They’re part of the fabric of Albuquerque life now, and how we figure out … immigration into this society.”
La Mesa Church has supported the association in various ways, such as providing financial support, legal advice, tutoring for kids, and a space where communities of refugees can meet.
The association is made up of 15 families and was founded by a group of five young men. The organization helps families navigate their new surroundings, have a stable lives in this country and continue celebrating the Burundian culture.
Martin Ndayisenga, secretary of the organization, escaped widespread violence in Rwanda to live in a refugee camp called Lukole in Tanzania. He lived there for 11 years, and came to the United States in 2006 with the help of an organization called Catholic Charities.
“Living in a refugee camp was too hard,” said Ndayisenga, “We were under government restrictions. We could not work, we could not go outside the camp to work for money. If you were a refugee, and you had to stay in the camp all the time.”
Ndayisenga’s family is originally from Burundi, but due to ongoing conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu that dates back to the 1960s, his father fled Burundi in 1972. He settled in Rwanda, where conflict between the same two groups made Rwanda an increasingly dangerous place to live throughout the 90s. In 1995, Ndayisenga and his uncle had to flee to Tanzania.
Although they’re far from danger, there are still a number of problems that Burundian refugees face here in Albuquerque.
“The refugees here right now aren’t getting much support from the government,” Ndayisenga said, “I got support through Catholic Charities for only three months. I came here in July and I had to start a job in September, then my support was over. So you understand that we have to work hard because we have to become independent after a time period.”
Ndayisenga said this is especially hard right now with the current job market, and those who want an education need to figure out how to support themselves first. Immigrants also have to pay a monthly fee to Catholic Charities to reimburse the organization for the cost of airfare, and missing payments can negatively affect immigrants’ credit scores.
The Association of Burundian Americans in New Mexico is working to further incorporate itself into the state. It is submitting its forms to the IRS so it can become a non-profit.
Hammond said he is glad that the organization is composed of immigrants themselves, and is not run by a charity, although the organization does accept some financial support from Catholic Charities.
“If you organize yourself, you’re not depending on charity,” he said. “You are advocating for your needs, your rights, your place in society, so that’s what really going on right now with the Burundians,” he said.