Refugee Stories: Interview with Bigirimana Musa in Lusenda Refugee Camp

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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.

Bigirimana Musa is a Burundian citizen, 35 years old, married with a child. He ran, locally, the youth league of the political party known as FEDES-Sangira (Forum for Equity Development, Democracy and Sovereignty). Nowadays, he lives in the Lusenda Refugee Camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

His situation as a refugee is the result of the political opinion he was supporting in his country, while the regime in place was witch-hunting for anyone who had participated somehow in the demonstrations against the third term of President Peter Nkurunzinza.

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Mr. Musa, can you introduce yourself please?

As you have just called me by my name, I am a Burundian refugee living in the Lusenda camp where I hold the position of Village Chief IV; I am married and father of a child. I was born in Burundi, in the Province of Cibitoki, Mugina Municipality, Rubirizi Hill.

How can you explain your presence here in DR Congo?

Today I’m in Congo to seek refuge. I had to flee my country during the demonstrations in Burundi in 2015, which had ended in a coup d’état which, unfortunately, had failed. In short, people were protesting against the third term of the current President of the Republic, Peter Ngurunziza.

Personally, I was a member of an opposition political party called FEDES-Sangira, in which I was the leader of the youth league in my city, after I had left the FRODEBU (Front for Democracy in Burundi), which is also a radical opposition party. There I was holding a similar position.

Then, after the failure of the coup d’état, a witch-hunt had been started against anyone who, somehow, has taken part in the enterprise. That is why I had to flee the country, because I was also being sought.

Can you tell us how you managed to leave Burundi even though you were wanted?

Oh, I only left the country because I was being chased behind my back, as if they were running behind a murderer, who has just barely knocked a person down.

Explain to us what has happened?

As a matter of fact, I was sitting at home. All of a sudden, there was a neighbour, who suddenly entered my house to beckon me the presence of the armed forces in front of my home, who were looking for me. And then I did not ask any more questions, because I had already received alerts two days ago. I immediately jumped out of the window and fled.

Fortunately, after they saw me running, they ran behind me, but in vain.

So, all of a sudden, I had taken the road to the river Ruzizi to take the canoe to the DR Congo. Once at the river, I was desperate to call home to find out what happened after I left. It was confirmed that they were looking for me and before seeing me running, they first came to the house to see if I was there.

This is how I had the chance to come to Congo.

Mr. Musa, as leader of the youth league in the FEDES-Sangira party, what was your role in all these events?

In fact, I would say that the demonstrations were often held in Bujumbura. Then, when they unfolded I was there too, but I soon realized that the situation continued to get worse. So I decided to go home to Cibitoke, where everyone knew that I was coming from Bujumbura and I have been there for demonstrations.

But I had to face the fear of being arrested and rumours in the neighbourhood about me. But alas, after the coup failed, I was being sought.

Regarding my role in all these events: physically I did not take part in it, but I shared the ideology and the motivation of the protesters, because we were all from the opposition. Except that I was not fully involved, because I had also other matters for which I had been to Bujumbura.

Then, once in Congo, how could you find your family?

To reach the Congo, I had to take a lagboat for which I paid money to get to Luvungi (in DR Congo) where I had found a refugee reception center. I got enlisted and two days later the UNHCR agents came to give us refugee cards and transfer us in a convoy the long way from the Luvungi transit center to Lusenda.

Once in the camp, I tried to reach my family on the phone but in vain, and afterwards I managed to reach them by the number of a relative, who had informed me that I was still a wanted person by the security agents, commonly known as “Imbonerakure”. When I spoke with my wife, she told me about the threats she also suffered from, to bring me back to Burundi. So I told her to sell some goods so that she can join me here in the Congo. This is how she joined me here in the camp through the transit center of Sange.

Explain for us who are the “Imbonerakure” please!

The “Imbonerakure” is a militia group, composed of young people, under the orders of the President Pierre Nkurunziza, who play both the role of intelligence and security police.

How was your reception in the camp?

From the transit center to the camp, UNHCR took care of us; once in the camp it entrusted us to the AIRD, which is its partner and the camp manager.

Tell us how you live in Lusenda Camp.

You know that the life of a refugee cannot be as good as that of your home, but I do not want to go home because I fear for my life. This life is not really easy, but we will endure it as long as we are still refugees, because here we feel safe.

I have no other job here apart from being village chief, as I told you earlier. This is an unpaid position; we only live on the $ 15 US dollars that UNHCR gives us monthly and per each person, and also on humanitarian aid from various humanitarian organisations working in the camp, for example, Pax Christi Uvira asbl.

Moreover, those who are not satisfied with this aid go out of the camp clandestinely to trade and do handicrafts here in Congo to get some money.

And finally, what do you think of the idea of returning home?

I do not think it will be today or tomorrow that we’ll go back home, because the targeted killings and also the kidnappings are still common today. Here is one example: in the past months, February and March, we all followed the news on the radio about the assassination of the Minister of the Environment and of a colonel of the Burundian army. In conclusion, we, the ordinary people are still wanted.

As you seem to be in the habit of informing yourself about the situation in Burundi, what is the current situation in relation to this crisis?

In the news they say that all the political parties of the opposition gathered in a platform called CNARED (Conseil National pour le respect de l’Accord d’Arusha pour la Paix et la Réconciliation au Burundi et de l’Etat de droit). They are in dialogue with the regime of Bujumbura in Tanzania under the mediation of the former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa. But I do not think there will be a solution, because President Ngurunziza always acts according to Machiavellianism. He tries to ease the tension by seeming to be open to dialogue in order to show those who would like try to return home that the situation has normalised.

Read this interview in French by clicking here.

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