Refugee Stories: My visit to Lusenda Refugee Camp in DR Congo

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The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

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In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, precisely in the South Kivu Province in the Fizi territory, a Burundian refugee camp has been built in the Lusenda area since June 2015. Initially built for 20,000 refugees, the Lusenda Camp contains today more than 29,000 refugees who continue to flee the socio-political tensions in their home country. These refugees get humanitarian assistance from various organizations working in partnership with the UNHCR, including Pax Christi Uvira asbl, for which I am responsible for the youth program for human rights, and as a member of Pax Christi’s Young Peace Journalists team.

My visit from 12 to 14 April 2017 in Lusenda camp was my first as a journalist. However, in the past I had already visited the camp several times as an agent of Pax Christi Uvira asbl through its interventions in terms of projects for Burundian refugees and local host communities.

On my arrival, the administrative authority of the camp, to whom I had to present my civilities, took me to the village chiefs. After that I got the chance to speak to the residents regarding my mission. Talking to these chiefs, I noticed their curiosity and eagerness to hear the message that I brought them. It was of course about the Young Peace Journalists project and its purposes. By their reaction, I understood that each refugee in front of me had a personal and touching experience in the past that they would have liked to share with the entire world. Considering their reasons to flee and the way each of them had managed to leave Burundi, and especially the way of life they have in the Lusenda camp, the village chiefs told me that no refugee can be silent on such an occasion.

So, when I had a look around the camp, I realized that all the spaces, formerly used as cultivation areas, were occupied by tents made out of the “UNHCR tarpaulins” which shelter new refugee families. Indeed, the large amount of refugees coming from Burundi was already reported to me by the camp’s administrative authority, who highlighted the problem of camp overcrowding and the gaps in humanitarian assistance (health, education, nutrition, etc.) that remain enormous and far from being filled in terms of humanitarian responses from both the Congolese government, national and international partners.

At the end of my encounter with the village chiefs, they gave me the opportunity to choose one of them or other refugees in the camp to conduct the interview. At that moment, one of them, Mr. Bigirimana Musa, seemed to me timid, a little as if he was suffering, yet he has the appearance of a giant. I was curious to approach him and to know what was on his mind, then I understood that he was remembering the events and dramatic sequences that surrounded his escape to the Democratic Republic of Congo. So I offered him an interview for the next day which he willingly accepted.

Before the interview, Mr. Musa looked neither fearless nor shy, and it was this attitude that he carried during the whole interview. Nevertheless, his voice sank a little, especially when he had to explain the way he left the country, thinking of his survival, which he considered wretched in the country of refuge.

Finally, when I had returned home after conducting the interview, I felt satisfied in spite of the long journey I made, because I achieved my mission of finding a refugee and exchanging with him. But deep down, I understood how painful it is to be forced to flee one’s country because of one’s political opinions.

Read this article in French by clicking here.

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