22 June 2014

Rwanda: Of Shattered Families and Dreams, a Congolese Teen Refugee's Wish

Like all children, Uwajeneza Kadogo dreamt of going to school and becoming someone important in society, including becoming a high ranking political figure in her country.

But her hope to go to school almost died as she was kept home by the unending wars in her home country-the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is not until her family fled to Rwanda in 2013 and their subsequent settlement in Mugombwa camp in the southern district of Gisagara that the 14-year-old got a chance to go to school.

Now a Primary Two student, Uwajeneza is happy she can now afford to go to school-something she sees as the beginning of the realisation of her dreams.

She is one of the thousands of Congolese nationals who were forced to flee their homes as wars between rebels and government forces intensified in the eastern part of the country since mid-2012.

Separated from the family patriarch, Uwajeneza, her mother and her six siblings fled their village in Masisi and found refuge in Mugombwa camp, Rwanda's newest refugee settlement.

"I miss my father badly. I hope one day these wars will stop and we meet again," Uwajeneza says.

She says people have told them that her father is still alive.

"I hope he is, we've not spoken to him ever since we arrived in Rwanda."

But they do not know where he is at the moment.

Though the pain of being a refugee at a tender age seems unbearable for the teenager, Uwajeneza says she is happy that she is safe and going to school.

Families separated:

"Life has been terribly bad because of the many rebel groups operating in our province (Northern Kivu)," her mother Feza Nyirakamana, 34, says as she sorts beans inside her tiny house in Mugombwa camp.

The house, a single-room with plastic roofing provides shelter for the mother and her six children.

"This house is obviously too small for us but at least we sleep with hope that we will be alive the next day," Nyirakamana says.

The mother of six, separated from her husband as they fled the raging wars, recalls how rebels "used to launch attacks on civilians, rape women, plunder property and kill innocent people."

DRC's Northern Kivu Province is a haven of dozens of militia groups which have constantly terrorised the population and forced millions of civilians to flee to neighbouring countries while many others have been internally displaced.

Praying for peace:

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, the number of refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and asylum seekers worldwide has exceeded 50 million for the first time after the Second World War.

The new figures were released on Friday on an occassion of the World Refugee Day.

From the 45.2 million refugees reported in 2012 worldwide, the number increased to 51.2 million by the end of 2013, UNCHR said in its annual Global Trends report.

Wars in Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo greatly contributed to the increase.

Over the recent years, thousands of Congolese refugees have crossed to neighbouring countries in search for safety.

To respond to the growing number of refugees, the Rwandan Government opened two new camps where the new caseload of refugees are currently hosted. Kigeme Refugee Camp in Nyamagabe District was opened in June 2012 and currently hosts over 18,000 Congolese nationals, while Mugombwa camp in Gisagara District was opened early this year. It currently hosts over 7,000 refugees.

Rwanda is home to more than 73,000 refugees who are hosted in five camps; Nyabiheke, Kiziba, Gihembe, Kigeme and Mugombwa. The majority of the refugees are Congolese nationals and some have lived in the camps since 1996.

Women make up the majority of the camp population, according to official figures.

"I always pray to God to restore peace in my country," says Sifa Uwamahoro, 28, a Congolese refugee who has been living in Rwanda for the past one-and-a half years.

"I want to go back to my motherland, join my husband and family. I want to live a normal life. I want to go back to my usual business and work hard to improve the living conditions of my family," the mother of three, who was also separated from her husband, says.

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