Who Am I? An Unexpected Refugee

Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center

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For seven years, I have lived in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, a country in the southeastern part of Africa. I survive like any other refugee, struggling to meet the basic needs of my family. I receive a monthly food ration that we get from the World Food Program, a monthly stipend of 25,000 MK (something around 40 US dollars), and 20 kg of rice from my job. However, the psychological wounds from my experience in my home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), far outweigh the financial difficulties my family and I face in the camp.

My story begins in June 2008, in North-Kivu where my wife and I worked as health professionals. I treated six soldiers, all of whom had severe gunshot wounds, before they were transferred to the main hospital in Goma city. A day later, another group of soldiers came to the clinic to ask me about the six soldiers I treated. They told me that the wounded soldiers were rebels fighting on the side of Laurent Nkunda, who they claim led a rebellion that fought against the governmental military force. Saying that the men I had treated were in violation of the peace agreement, the government soldiers accused me of working on the side of the rebellion.

I was then taken to the military camp at Katindo where I was found guilty of being a traitor. They tortured me for 2 days in that camp until I woke up in Goma hospital after being found unconscious. I stayed for treatment, then my colleagues and friends who worked at the hospital helped me to escape. While I was in hiding, a group of soldiers came to look for me at my home in Birere. No one could identify them as government soldiers or rebels. When they found my wife and children, they physically abused them. When my wife cried and shouted for help, she was fatally shot in the back. My children fled in fear, and I have not seen two of them since.

After getting the tragic news that my wife had died, I was reunited with four of my children at the hospital in Goma, where they were trying to get a last chance to see their mother. Before we could see my wife in the mortuary, my friends who worked at the hospital told me that armed people were looking for me, and that I must flee from the city. Later, I found out that both the government and the rebels were hunting me. I feared being arrested and brutally killed, so my family and I fled from the DRC. Our long journey led us to Malawi, where we have lived as refugees ever since.

I can’t really compare my life here in the camp to my life back home in DRC. Back home, my family and I had the financial, social, and emotional resources we needed to live a full, happy life. Here, we find it difficult to meet our basic needs. My family is currently in the final stages of the process for resettlement in Finland, where we hope to have a better future.

Robert* works for Jesuit Refugee Service as a facilitator of the JC: HEM Community Health CSLT Program at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. He graduated from the University of Kinshasa in Teaching and Administration of Medical Technicians. *Name has been changed.