Out of focus: the plight & stories of Congolese refugees in Uganda

As the world observes World Refugee Day, MSF highlights the under-reported plight and stories of refugees from the DRC who have sought sanctuary in Uganda’s Mara Tatu camps

Wednesday, June 20, 2018 — World Refugee Day

AREITI’s STORY

Areiti, is 37-years old and from a village called Joo (Mahagoi) in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Areiti and six of her children have been in Mara Tatu camp in Uganda since February 2018. They are among the 57,000 people who have fled massacres in Ituri since mid-December 2017 for Uganda, crossing Lake Albert by boat.

For her, the pain of exile is exacerbated by the fact that the violence separated her from her husband and one of her children. They hope to be reunited, though as the killings rage on in DRC, it is hard for her loved ones to find an escape route.

For now, she and her six children live in hope that their family will be whole again, as they try to forget the horrific scenes they witnessed.

The attackers hid their faces. They slaughtered people with axes and machetes.  We never saw them properly because they were chasing us.  We had to climb over dead bodies.

I fled to the bush with relatives and six of my children.  We were in the bush for a month, constantly on the run, too afraid to settle down.  We were on the run all the time without a chance to settle.

People were being killed all around us. The attackers set the bush on fire to force us out. People died in the fires. Living in the bush was dangerous. There were snakes everywhere. We had to try to find a safe place to sleep.

There was no food, no medicine and children were getting malaria.  They chased us all the way to the lake, so we had to cross over to the other side. We sold our goat to a neighbor to pay for the boat across the lake.

I also paid for my grandmother. We ran away with nothing but the shirts on our backs. My children are still wearing the same cloths. I will call my husband today. He’s still stuck in DRC because there are roadblocks. I can’t go back. My husband has to come here. I’ve seen too much, I can’t go back.”

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EMANNUEL’S STORY:

Emmanuel (42) is a farmer from Ngobi village near Bunia in Ituri province, DRC. Early in the month of February he fled with his wife and eight children to Uganda because he did not want to live in fear at his home. He settled with his family in a tent in Mara Tatu camp but they all suffered with lack of food and services in the camp. As a result of this, he decided to go back to his village alone to make some money of his manioc farm. He went back on the 8th of February 2018, leaving behind his wife and children at the camp. When he arrived at his village he saw a huge fire from afar. His village is close to the lake, so he saw it when he got off the boat. He saw many dead people on the ground and he heard that people were being killed by machete in his village and his farm was burned. He went back to Uganda sad, shocked and empty-handed: 

"In my village for a long time now people don’t sleep in houses, they sleep in the open farms at night because it’s safer (no one will burn you quickly at the farm). People go back to their houses every morning to work when they feel safe” 

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ARIELE’S STORY:

Ariele (40) is a woman from Joo village in Ituri, who lost her husband to the violence in the province: 

“My husband died recently, I found him dead in the near bushes and we have no idea who did kill him, he was a farmer. I live with my dad, Gustina, who is 120 years old, my two daughters and their children. I lost three boys and five daughters with unknown diseases. None of them make it to the age of three. I was so sad about my dead children for a long time. But now with this war, I am not thinking about them anymore. I am just trying to find my way here in Uganda”. 

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SALAMA’S STORY:

Salama (19) is a woman from Kasenyi in Ituri, DRC. She says she saw her six children drown in Lake Albert during the crossing. A little investigation, prompted by the fact her age and her story did not correlate, quickly revealed the truth. While her own son, eight-month-old Sami, survived, her husband did not. He was shot in the head in front of her while they ran towards the lake. Also trying to escape were a group of Salama’s neighbors, among them six children she had seen grow up. Salama and the others all jumped into the water together, though the fishermen could not save everyone. The six children drowned in front of her — three boys and three girls: 

“I keep thinking, why am I alive if those children died? My husband was a fisherman and I loved him so much. I miss him already,” Salama says, as she describes her home in Ituri. “We lived in a big house made of bricks and the roof was made of tin. It was painted white. We were happy.”  

Until recently, she was able to breastfeed Sami, but now she has run out of milk. Though any child his age needs milk to grow, she can’t find any to give him at the reception centre where they will likely remain for at least two weeks. Instead, she feeds him whatever she can find. 

 

5 Things to Know: The Crisis in Ituri, DRC

Areti, 37-years-old from a village called Joo (Mahagoi) in Ituri province <br/>Areiti and six of her children have been in Mara Tatu camp in Uganda since February 2018. <br/><br/><br/>Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam/MSF
Ariele 40-years-old from Joo village in Ituri province in DRC.<br/>“My husband dies recently, I found him dead in the near bushes and we have no idea who did kill him, he was a farmer.”<br/><br/>Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam/MSF
Emmanuel is a 42-years-old Farmer from Ngobi village near Bunia in Ituri province in DRC. <br/>"In my village and since a long time people don’t sleep at houses, they sleep in the open farms during nights because it’s safer (no one will burn you quickly at the farm).”<br/><br/>Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam/MSF
Salama, a 19-year-old woman from Kasenyi in Ituri, says she saw her six children drown in Lake Albert during the crossing. <br/><br/>Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam/MSF
Salama, a 19-year-old woman from Kasenyi in Ituri, says she saw her six children drown in Lake Albert during the crossing. <br/><br/>Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam/MSF
Rukudzo Chiobvu

Media and Comms Intern

MSF South Africa