UNHCR and UNESCO help create "living museum" in Mozambique camp

News Stories, 31 May 2010

© UNHCR/T.Ghelli
Young Burundian refugees kick up some dust at Maratane refugee camp in Mozambique.

MARATANE REFUGEE CAMP, Mozambique, May 31 (UNHCR) Life in a refugee camp is not a bundle of fun at the best of times. At Maratane, a typical day for a refugee consists of going to the market, working in the garden and generally pottering around the house without much to do.

So when UNHCR and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently joined efforts to promote inter-generational dialogue and cultural exchanges in this small camp of 4,800 refugees and asylum-seekers in north-western Mozambique, people used it as an excuse to party.

"The goal is to create a living museum, where the various cultures living within the camp can come together to share music, dance, art and handicrafts with each other and with the local community, as well as visitors to the camp," said Margarida Botelho, a Portuguese consultant working in Maratane.

To help break the ice, Botelho brought along Spanish clown Denguito from the "Clowns without Borders" humanitarian group to teach the camp's Congolese acrobatic troupe some of his juggling and other performance skills. But word soon spread about the planned session and when Botelho and Denguito showed, every other aspiring performing group had turned up to take part in the fun.

It soon resembled an African version of the universal "Got Talent" series or a combined dance and music copy of "American Idol." Watching frenzied dancers kick up dust in an impromptu contest between Congolese and Burundian troupes, the camp residents cheered and clapped. "It is wonderful to see them using this forum as positive energy to celebrate their differences," said Botelho.

Almost everyone was determined to take part. Even a group of elderly Congolese women got up and danced to the songs of their youth, much to the delight of the younger set. To cap it all off, Denguito whose real name is Albert Brau performed with the acrobats and brought the house down.

"This was a really happy day for me. I liked the dancers and the drummers. The clown was very funny," said Jean Minani, an eight-year-old Burundian refugee, after it was all over. "It makes the day more interesting for me," he added.

What would have been a routine day for the residents of Maratane turned out as a rich exchange of cultural traditions that will help establish links and understanding between the different nationalities as well as promoting tolerance.

The joint programme, in which UNHCR and UNESCO are participating, is funded by Spain. The ultimate goals are to promote a more conducive environment for local integration as well as to help prepare the younger generation for a possible return home by maintaining an active link with the culture of their homeland.

Among other activities under the joint programme, UNHCR has been supporting regular cultural events inside and outside Maratane. It also plans to establish a cultural centre in the camp, which will become a living museum for art and cultural activities from the camp residents and local community.

There are some 7,700 refugees in Mozambique, including the 4,800 in Maratane. Most are from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

By Tina Ghelli in Maratane Refugee Camp, Mozambique




UNHCR country pages

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

Since the end of October more than 26,000 Burundian former refugees have been assisted by UNHCR and its partners to return home from the Mtabila camp in northwest Tanzania. The operation is organized with the Government of Tanzania to help some 35,500 Burundian former refugees go back to Burundi by the end of 2012, when the Mtabila camp officially closes.

Refugee status for most Burundians in Tanzania formally ended in August following individual interviews to assess remaining protection needs. A total of 2,715 people will continue to be hosted as refugees in Tanzania, while the rest, the last of a population of refugees who left Burundi some 20 years ago, must return home. This is not an easy move after having spent most of your life -- and sometimes all of it -- in exile.

While awaiting their turn to join one of the daily convoys to bring them home, Burundian former refugees are preparing themselves for a fresh start…

A fresh start; Burundian former refugees begin a new chapter in their lives

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Africa is the continent most affected by the tragedy of forced displacement. While millions of refugees were able to return to Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda and South Sudan over the last 15 years, the numbers of internally displaced people continued to grow. At the beginning of 2009, in addition to some 2.3 million refugees, an estimated 11.6 million people were internally displaced by conflict in Africa.

To address forced displacement on the continent, the African Union is organizing a special summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced people from October 19-23 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Heads of state and government will look at the challenges and at ways to find solutions to forced displacement. They are also expected to adopt a Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa, which would be the first legally binding instrument on internal displacement with a continental scope. This photo gallery looks at some of the forcibly displaced around Africa, many of whom are helped by UNHCR.

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek Safety

He used to fix broken bicycles in Burundi, but as political troubles and killings mounted Nestor Kamza decided to flee. In search of safety he and his family walked non-stop for 24-hours until they reached Tanzania. His family is among more than 100,000 people who have fled from political violence in Burundi and arrived in the Nyarugusu camp which has almost tripled in size. To alleviate overcrowding in the camp, UNHCR and its partners have planned to open three new camps and have started moving tens of thousands of Burundian refugees to a new, less congested, home
Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.
Top business partners renew supportPlay video

Top business partners renew support

Executives from Manpower, Young & Rubicam, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft visit UNHCR operations in South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia.