Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: “The victims of natural disaster: displaced people? Yes, but actually forgotten.”

The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists based in Uvira (South Kivu), in Congo, DRC.

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Summary:
The story starts by the author observation. It’s about the displaced people, victims of flooding by the waters of Nyangara Pond, in DR Congo, South Kivu Province, in Uvira territory. The waters of this pond had left their natural bed before pouring into the residential area of Kilomoni and destroying many private dwellings whose victims had moved into a chapel of the Catholic Parish of the area. Later, to facilitate the liturgical activities, a site was built using tarpaulins donated by a Xaverian Father. To date, besides the aids obtained two months ago, these displaced people do not know how to go about it so as to go back to their life at home, because of the lack of livelihood, security and protection by the Congolese State and entitled organizations.

The observation…

Once upon a time, in June 2018, when I was heading for Bujumbura, the Burundian capital, located a few tens of kilometers from the city of Uvira, in the province of South Kivu, DR Congo, I caught a glimpse of the tents built in tarpaulins, looking like military barracks, at the edge of the Congolese road leading to the border with the Burundi.

As a result, I was curious to know what it was all about, but I could not stop the vehicle that was carrying us because everyone seemed in a hurry for his business. At my sides, none of the passengers around me could tell me what it really was because everyone was asking everyone.

Two days after my stay in Bujumbura…

As I knew that in the quarter where I saw these tents there is a Burundian refugee transit center, all my thoughts went in the direction of an extension of this center, but still it was necessary to verify. So one good morning, I went to the site to inquire.

As soon as I arrived, I found a mother carrying her child on the back, getting out of a tent to go into the shade of an unfinished building located two meters from the site. I approached her and introduced myself before proposing to her a conversation which she accepted willingly.

Me and her under the shadow of the unfinished building…

Me: How are you?

Her: We are a bit good despite this dramatic situation that has hit us.

Me: Dramatic situation…! Would you like to tell me about it?

Her: In March 2018, our houses had collapsed due to the flood waters of the Pond “Nyangara” which had overflowed before pouring into the residential area of Kilomoni. And many of us, victims of this disaster, had nowhere to go. That’s how we came to take refuge in the chapel of the Catholic parish of Kilomoni.

Me: It was a natural disaster then …. but how did you survive this cascading collapse of the flooded houses?

Her: Oh! That’s the wonder of God and it’s no secret to anyone. At the beginning of this year 2018, heavy rains were felling regularly over most of Uvira’s territory. The waters of the pond “Nyangara” gradually swelled, some could see how their homes were flooding, and others were surprised to see the water rises from the bottom of their houses and fill them all in a few hours. Noticing this situation, we tried to save what we could by starting with the little children before taking care of the furniture. A pity that many did not succeed because most of the houses were built in adobe, therefore much more fragile in contact with the water and yielded easily. That’s how many goods had perished.

Me: Who did welcome you in the chapel and how did you leave there to live in these tents built of tarpaulins?

Her: Initially, when we slept in the chapel, it was on the authorization of a reverend Xaverian Father as a sign of compassion with the victims of the natural disaster, while in the meantime, the liturgical activities took place there during the day. Thus, to free space, we asked the Reverend Father to provide us with tarpaulins to temporarily build tents in the enclosure of the parish that was not invaded by the water. That’s how he paid us tarpaulins for the construction of these tents in which we live today.

Me: How do you live in this site?

Her: We live with difficulties, because it was only in April and May 2018 that we received visits from certain politico-administrative authorities and some humanitarian organizations. After identification of all the victims, some NGOs gave us living goods including beans and rice; another one had built us a latrine. But also, some administrative authorities had given us kitchen utensils, soaps and few clothes. However, since June, we each one manage in one’s own way to make ends of month meet. Many of us are farmers, other fishermen. When we leave our tents for our occupations, we lose a lot of property for the lack of security and surveillance of the site. Particularly, the Congolese State has taken no steps to protect us and secure us.

… Under conversation, other people, also victims of this natural disaster, were heading towards us …, among them, there was a lady who had been indicated to me as responsible of the displaced people of this site. Suddenly, I greeted her and introduced myself at the same time.

Her (responsible of the displaced people site): Thank you and welcome to our place.

Me: You are welcome, Madam! I would like to know how much you live in this site?

Her: We are here forty households, but other victims of this disaster settle in unfinished building sites here in Kilomoni.

Me: Now that the waters of the “Nyangara” pond are gradually regaining their natural bed, are there not people among you who are going back to their homes?

Her: No, unfortunately. Because most of the flooded houses had collapsed, and to return to live there, you must have the means to start building. The majority of those who occupy tents here do not really have those means. On the other hand, those who prefer to be much safer are going to look for unfinished building sites in the quarter to settle there, because here, the more it rains the more the tarpaulins are destroyed in contact with the sunlight which shines in Uvira.

Me: What does the Congolese state say about your case?

Her: Nothing at all.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: The drama of a young Burundian refugee serving as a teacher in Mulongwe refugee camp

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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Interviewee Identity

Name: Ndayishimiye Frédéric Etienne
Age: 25 years old
Sex: M
Marital status: Single, Father of a child
Status: Burundian refugee from Mulongwe Camp

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Summary

This story is about Ndayishimiye Frédéric, a young Burundian refugee who lives nowadays in the Mulongwe camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thanks to his diploma obtained with difficulty in the country of refuge, he teaches to this day at a secondary school which educates Burundian and Congolese children in the locality of the camp. He is the only Burundian teacher at this school, serving as a link between Congolese and Burundian children who don’t have the same culture. Unfortunately, his profession does not guarantee him the dignity of an educator whose noble mission is to sacrifice himself in service for the children’s education.

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Age 25, Ndayishimiye Frédéric is the eldest son of a large family whose survival depended on him because their father died when he was very young. In January 2015, his family received regular night visits by gunmen who had managed to take away all the goats they bred at home.

These undesirable visits had taken a deadly turn during the socio-political unrest linked to the challenge of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s regime. Armed men, generally suspected to be young people serving the regime, were carrying out assassinations and kidnappings at night, targeting anyone who does not share the political ideology of the ruling party.

To flee and continue his studies in DR Congo before transferring to the Mulongwe refugee camp…

While troubles persisted, “the political and social climate of the area no longer promised a better future because I still needed to continue my studies but there was no way here … that is why I had to look elsewhere,” confides Ndayishimiye Frédéric. In his struggle for intellectual fulfillment and physical security, Frédéric Ndayishimiye saw fit to migrate to DR Congo, leaving behind his young siblings and his mother. Once in the country of asylum, he fortunately found a host family in Sange, South Kivu province, where he had started plowing the residents’ fields and getting paid for the job.

“The fruits of this craft made it easier for me to enroll in the sixth year of secondary school, a final degree, in the general pedagogy section in the Congolese education system,” explains Frédéric, who obtained on that occasion his “State diploma”, equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, allowing him to have access to the university.

With the support of a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) that promoted youth education through repayable loans, he was enrolled at the University in the Faculty of Peace Science, Conflict Management and Social Communication, but, according to him, “It was not easy at all because survival depended only on my own efforts. After the course, I had to manage how to eat, while in the meantime I also had to consider repaying the amount received on loan.” He finished this first year in these conditions.

Finally, Ndayishimiye Frédéric resolved to join his fellow Burundian citizens in the transit center to be transferred to the refugee camp. This is how he was admitted and transferred in November 2017 to the newly built Mulongwe refugee camp due to overcrowding of the Lusenda camp.

Until then, the Mulongwe camp was being set up, and everything was not yet organised. Some refugees did not have shelters yet, and others were waiting for enlistment to receive food. In the meantime, the need for education of the children pressed; the area has only one school institution including secondary school and primary school.

In service of the education of children in the camp and the locality of Mulongwe…

While many refugees cultivated and traded food inside the camp because they were allowed to practice the profession of their skills, Ndayishimiye Frédéric had preferred to serve as a teacher at the Kasaba II Institute, the only school in the area where he had applied.

A few weeks later, he was called back to join the teaching staff and was immediately granted the “English and Civic and Moral Education Courses” cause he had had his diploma in the Congolese educational system. Since January 2018, “I regularly practice the teaching profession at this school where I am the only Burundian in a body made up of about ten teachers,” explains Frédéric, who continues: “Every time I come to class, I have in front of me the Burundian children (refugees) and Congolese and also my colleague teachers with whom we cooperate and work in peace … I have never been personally attacked due to my identity.”

To explain the cohabitation at the school between Burundian refugee pupils and Congolese children, Ndayishimiye Frédéric recognises that not all students have the same mastery of French and Swahili, the two languages ​​used in school. This, in his view, handicaps the integration of refugee children who find it difficult to express themselves in a language other than “Kirundi”, the national language of Burundi. In their way of speaking, “Burundian children communicate with difficulty because of the tone of their mother tongue which makes it difficult for them to make heard the sound “l” which they pronounce “r”,” he explains stating that this way of speaking is really the object of laughter by Congolese children.

As an educator, Frédéric Ndayishimiye, who had first lived in the Congo before entering the camp, never stops calling Congolese children to tolerance because this linguistic interference can not immediately change because of the laughter, especially since it’s related to their mother tongue. At least he as a teacher, moreover, due to his Burundian nationality and his mastery of all the languages ​​used at school, knows how to approach all children and explain to them affectionately what it is to live together.

Difficult to live the honour and dignity expected…

Admittedly, “the status of teacher confers a certain esteem to its wearer, especially in school,” acknowledges Frédéric. However, it is sad to see that it is always difficult to find his account in this profession and live the honour and dignity expected. To explain himself, he confesses that he has not received a salary for four months because humanitarian organisations that are supposed to take charge of refugee children, the majority at the school, seem to be shirking their responsibility. This is what makes the teaching profession difficult. “We manage otherwise to live by other livelihoods … with all the risks of being confused as common mortals and then the respect suffers,” says a disappointed Frédéric Ndayishimiye.

* Photo credit: UN High Commission on Refugees, http://www.unhcr.org/thumb3/5acfcdd34.jpg
Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

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.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

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.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

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.