Refugee Stories: Husband reported missing, wife manages to survive in 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. 

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Vizigiro Lambert is a Burundian woma, whose husband was reported missing in Burundi during the post-election socio-political disturbances. Before his disappearance, he had already planned to leave the country. Today, she lives with her three children in the camp of Lusenda in DR Congo, where she looks after the supply of humanitarian aid which appears not to cover all their basic needs.

During the demonstrations in Burundi in 2015, when the population and civil society marched against the third term of the current president Pierre Nkurunziza, Madam Vizigiro, her husband and their three children lived in Rutumo, in the commune of Bugarama, province of Rumonge, in the southwest of Burundi. Back then, the socio-political climate was not good. ”

When someone was abducted at night, sometimes his corpse was found early in the morning on the side of the street; sometimes he was reported missing,” she says, gesticulating.

Two days before she left the country, Madame Vizigiro was terrified because of the tragedy that happened to one of her neighbours. He was visited at night and found dead behind his house in the morning. This had sent a strong signal to her husband who was close to the late victim. So, together with her husband, they thought it best to flee the next day. “But unfortunately we had no money in the house that would allow us to travel abroad,” she explains.

After all that was finally settled, Madam Vizigiro and her three children fled alone to Baraka, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they were welcomed in the Mongemonge Refugee Transit Center in the hope that her husband would join them as soon as possible. Once in DR Congo, Madam Vizigiro had to phone her husband to find out about his news and inform him about hers, but unfortunately, she couldn’t reach him.

Desperate to speak to her husband, she tried another number of a neighbour who could easily reach him. He informed her that the day after her departure, her husband was kidnapped at night and no one knows anything about him. “Immediately I started to cry without saying anything to the children because I knew the fate of every person abducted,” explains Madam Vizigiro in a soft voice. She turned away as she gently rubbed the palms of her hands.

Since this unfortunate event, Madam Vizigiro often telephones to Burundi, but noone has the courage to tell her if her husband is alive or not; they tell her that they have not yet received news about him. If he was actually killed, she wouldn’t understand why, because, she says, “My husband never did politics, not even in the neighbourhood or on the street during the demonstrations; additionally, he stepped back from taking part in the quarter debates on the current political situation.” She still tries to cope with the hate, because “it was just enough that one day someone makes accusations against you to the intelligence agents, commonly called Imbonerakure, and then that evening you are visited,” she explains sorrowfully. To this day, she presumes her husband to be dead.

Struggle for Survival in the Camp

Like all other refugees in the Lusenda camp, Madam Vizigiro is mainly dependent on humanitarian aid from the UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations such as Pax Christi Uvira asbl. At the end of each month, “the High Commission for Refugees gives fifteen US dollars to every refugee who has been duly registered,” she notes. This sum is supposed to meet the needs of the entire month apart from the school and health fees, which are taken care of by the humanitarian organizations.

“Beyond the food and the school and health fees, my needs and those of my three children are not always covered,” states Madam Vizigiro, who goes on to say that “this is the reason why many refugees carry on small trade manual labour to get paid money,” in order to cover both ends of the month.

Madam Vizigiro, brave in appearance and medium height, had spent a long time thinking of what work to do so as to find food, pay for shoes for her children, and pay for her clothes and those of her children. One day, chatting with one of her refugee friends, they decided to subscribe to the list of warehousemen, whose main task is to load and unload the vehicles of various humanitarian organisations that come to the Lusenda camp.

Previously, loading and unloading the vehicles was reserved for men only because, “when we went to ask for registration, we were told that men are better suited for this kind of work in terms of their physical strength,” explains Madam Vizigiro. She carries on to say, “They had asked us whether we were going to get by, and we accepted.”

Immediately registered, Madam Vizigiro and her friend joined a group of eight people, including three locals of Lusenda and five refugees, two women and six men all together.

“We receive the salary for loading and unloading a truck daily; it equals the amount of four US dollars,” explains Madam Vizigiro while complaining about the irregularity in which the trucks frequent the camp last time. She deplores that by saying, “Other times we counted seven to eight trucks per week.” This situation has already resulted in the dismissal of two warehousemen who found better work by cultivating the fields of the local residents in order to get paid.

In spite of this life, considered difficult by Madam Vizigiro, she does not think about returning to Burundi because, according to her, beyond the political aspect, there is also a tribal aspect that is worrying. “Due to the tribal hatred, my entire family is no longer in Burundi; they had left for Tanzania where they are now refugees, some in the Nduta camp and others in the Nyarugusu camp. We do not communicate because of lack of connection,” says Madam Vizigiro indignantly.

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